Following a $5 billion fine from European Union competition regulators in 2018, Android users in the EU will soon be able to choose their default search engine from a list of four options, including Google, when setting up their new phones or tablets.
DuckDuckGo and Info.com will appear on the set-up page in all 31 markets, Google announced Thursday, but Microsoft’s Bing will appear as a choice in just one — the United Kingdom. Search engines like Seznam, from the Czech Republic, Russia’s Yandex and France’s Qwant will also appear in some markets. These options will be in effect from March 1 to June 30 and new auctions will occur quarterly, Google said.
The three alternative search engines in each market were determined by a blind auction in which search providers that met Google’s criteria provide “the price that they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen in the given country.” A minimum bid was set for each country and the three highest bidders for each market will appear during setup on Android phones in that country.
In a blog post explaining the rules, Google called the auction, “a fair and objective method.” The choice screen is one of a number of changes Google has made following the European Commission’s 2018 decision that found it had used the mobile operating system to hamper rivals. Google has since appealed the decision.
The auction drew criticism from at least one European search engine that was left off of the default set-up screen.
“We believe this auction is at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling,” Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll said in a statement to CNBC. “Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use, and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open and federated internet.”
Kroll questioned why Google should be able to decide which choices will appear on its own set-up page and said the German-based company plans to “raise our broader concerns over Google’s monopolistic behavior with European Union legislators – we’ll also look at other ways to work with regulators to challenge this result. If this were to go unchallenged, we firmly believe that this would set a dangerous precedent over how large technology firms address competition rulings.”
DuckDuckGo also criticized the auction, even though it won in all 31 markets.
“We believe a search preference menu is an excellent way to meaningfully increase consumer choice if designed properly,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “However, we still believe a pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots isn’t right because it means consumers won’t get all the choices they deserve and Google will profit at the expense of the competition.”
-CNBC’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.