Australia could be next to mandate a choice screen in a bid to break Google’s dominance of the search market.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is recommending it is given the power to “mandate, develop and implement a mandatory choice screen to improve competition and consumer choice in the supply of search engine services in Australia”.
A new report by the country’s competition watchdog concludes that interventions are needed to boost competition in the local search engine market and address harms flowing from Google’s circa 94% marketshare of search in Australia, such as barriers to entry for other competitors and the risk of lower quality services with what it dubs “undesirable features” — like more sponsored content vs organic search results…
Google’s grip on the local search market is also hampering new business models emerging — such as subscription options that don’t rely on ads (and data-mining users) to monetize Internet search.
The report gives the example of Neeva, a new, subscription-based search engine — which advertises itself as “the only ad-free private search engine” — and (unlike Google most other search engines) has no ads or affiliate links in search results — thereby offering “a different value proposition that consumers may desire”, in the regulator’s assessment.
“Google’s foreclosure of key search access points through the arrangements discussed in this Report limits the ability of these businesses to grow, and consumers’ exposure to new and potentially attractive business models,” the ACCC concludes.
To tackle such problems, the regulator wants to be able to implement a search choice screen on Android devices which will provide users with a selection of options vs Google’s “predetermined default” — with the regulator saying that such a mechanism “can improve the ability of rival search engines to reach consumers”.
However the ACCC also wants to be responsible for developing the criteria around the application of a choice screen to specified service providers — which its report notes should be “linked to the provider’s market power and/or strategic position”.
That looks like a key qualification given Google has been offering a search choice screen in the European Union to users of Android smartphones for around three years — and there has been no notable shift in its regional dominance of search.
That can be blamed on the EU leaving it up to Google to determine how to ‘remedy’ the $5BN ‘cease & desist’ antitrust enforcement it issued against Google over Android back in 2018.
Google responded by adding a ‘choice’ screen of its own devising in the EU — which search rivals quickly decried.