Existence of “essential” Bing for search engines other than Google • The Registry

Maintenance Four search engines – DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Qwant and Lilo – have written an open letter to the European Commission claiming that Google is removing competition from search engines.

The EU has made a number of efforts to counter Google’s search monopoly, including a July 2018 fine and judgment that the company engaged in “illegal linking of Google’s search and browser applications” and “illegal payments conditional on the exclusive pre-installation of Google search”.

Google responded with some license changes. In August 2019, he agreed with the EU to provide a Android Choice Screen, which included selling seats on the new menu through auctions, which led to attendees like privacy-centric DuckDuckGo complaining that the price was too high.

Google’s new Android Choice display

The Android Choice screen has since been overhauled by a new agreement with the European Commission, and now offers more options and free participation. The new choice screen includes up to 12 search services, with the five most popular search engines in the local country first, such as recorded by StatCounter, and is free for search engines.

Third-party research providers are not happy. today open letter [PDF] states that “despite recent changes, we do not believe this will significantly increase market share.” The vendors say the new Android Choice menu is “displayed only once, in an onboarding process designed by Google and owned by Google. [users] later decide to change the default settings, they have to do more than 15 clicks or factory reset their phone. Android. “

The vendors are calling for Google to be banned from having search hotspots by default in operating systems and browsers, and asking that “consumers can switch at the click of a button at any time via app prompts from search engines or competing websites.

Isn’t that a recipe for chaos like in the bad old days when users inadvertently installed new toolbars in Internet Explorer and ended up with dozens of them and web browsing slowed down at a rate? frantic? Or file association wars in Windows when users would find PDF files opening in weird new apps because changing default settings was too easy?

“There are very few actual research companies,” said Christian Kroll, founder and CEO of German tree-planting search engine Ecosia, speaking to The register. “It was basically the companies that signed the letter, plus Bing… I see there could be some abuse, but if you whitelist a few vendors and set some clear rules, I think the problem can be solved. . “

Kroll also fears that Google is exploiting the slowness of the EU lawmaking process. Ecosia complained about Android Choice’s original process “from the first day we saw the auction model, and that was over two years ago.

“In the meantime, at least one search company has gone bankrupt. A German company called Cliqz invested 100 million euros in building its own search algorithm and it went bankrupt. Google play by the hour is a big deal. big problem.”

Cliqz said in his farewell message last year: “We have failed to convince politicians, that Europe is in desperate need of its own independent digital infrastructure. Here we can only hope that someone else picks up the ball … the world needs a private search engine that doesn’t just use Bing or Google in the back end. “

In Russia, Kroll said, “Yandex fell to 20% market share. Then they had a real fixed date choice screen and it came back to 60%. I’m not saying we should do everything like the Russia is doing it, but it shows that it can have an effect. “

Kroll’s numbers don’t quite match what Statcounter reports, but there was a substantial increase in Yandex’s share on mobile when this choice screen, placing Yandex first, was introduced.

Obstacles to rivals

According to Kroll, Google puts many obstacles in the way of competing search engines. On Chrome, he said, if users want Ecosia as their default search engine, “the only real way is to install an extension. You have to click a couple of times, and if you get there, Google just keeps going. display warning prompts such as “Do you really want to keep this search engine?” and they highlight the No button.

“The other thing Google does is every time they don’t own an ecosystem, they just pay the money it takes to become the default search engine. Mostly Safari. $ 15 billion. They’re just paying the money it takes to become the default search engine. are paying to make sure that no other competitor can enter the market … we’ve seen very slow momentum on the regulatory side. “

Kroll thinks there should be more transparency. “A lot of users don’t understand how it works, that the research preinstallation is an advertisement. There is no indication that you are making money for Apple.”

Is Ecosia concerned about Microsoft’s efforts to push users to Bing by integrating search into the Start menu used for launching applications, which is even more evident in the new Windows 11?

“Yeah, we’re concerned about all of these things on the platform. Google would lose more users than we do, of course,” Kroll said.

Without Bing, all non-Google engines would be screwed

There are nuances around the situation with Bing. Microsoft may be playing its own tricks to promote Bing, but without Bing there would be even less competition for Google in Europe and the United States.

“We use Bing, I think DuckDuckGo also uses Bing, but we add some layers of information on top of it,” Kroll said.

Building a rival ecosystem to make an alternative search engine succeed “would cost billions,” he said, and “even that doesn’t guarantee that you are successful because you still don’t have access to the market. This is why Cliqz went bankrupt. . “

Ecosia therefore has an economic model of revenue sharing with Microsoft for Bing. “I have no right to say how much that is,” said the CEO of Ecosia.

So the existence of Bing is important to all these other search engines? “It’s absolutely essential, yes,” Kroll said. “There isn’t really an independent search engine other than Google and Bing.”

Given the potential influence of search engines on important decisions, such as political issues or the effectiveness of a COVID vaccine, are they too important to be left to commercial companies? “I totally agree,” Kroll said. “It’s critical infrastructure and should be treated that way. And at the moment, it isn’t.” ®

Rosemary S. Bishop