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Google Will Let European Android Users Swap Default Search Engine

Google's Android apps displayed on an Android smartphone.
(Image credit: ymgerman/Shutterstock)

Google will let Android users in Europe use other default search engines, right from setting up a new phone, from next year. But it’s doing so on its own terms.

In July 2018, Google was hit with a $5 billion fine under the European Union's anti-trust laws. The EU reasoned that because Android phones have Chrome and Google Search set as the default browser and search engine, respectively, Google had created a monopoly for itself. 

The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, ordered Google to let Android users in Europe choose their default search engine out of the box, restoring some semblance of competition.

But Google has managed to pull off something sneaky, as it announced Aug. 2. Rather than just negotiate with other search engines to decide who gets the chance to appear as an option, Google has opened up a bidding process, whereby other companies can apply to fill one of three spots alongside Google’s own search engine in a selection menu that will appear during initial device setup.

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According to the page on the Android website about the bidding process, any applicant must submit an offer of how much it would pay Google for each user who selects its product as the default search engine. 

The bidding is separated by country, so smaller national-level companies will have a chance of being selected in their relevant region rather than having the big players dominate the entire European Economic Area (EEA) where the EU’s rules apply. The EEA comprises 28 EU countries and three non-EU states that follow EU trade regulations. 

Winning bidders will get exactly a year's placement on the search-engine selection screen, starting January 1 and ending December 31. Google will accept applications for 2020 until Sept. 13, 2019, picking the winners (or random eligible applicants if there are draws or not enough bids made) by Oct. 31, 2019.

This is a shrewd way for Google to comply with the EU’s decision while also making money from its competitors. All bids will be sealed, so the public will have no idea how much other companies will pay for a spot in the Android selection menu. One can imagine Google will make a decent amount of money once this system is put into practice.