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

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 via auctions – leading to entrants like DuckDuckGo, focusing on privacy to complain that they were overpriced.

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 don’t think this will significantly increase market share.” The vendors say the new Android Choice menu is “displayed only once, as part of an onboarding process designed by Google and owned by Google.” Yes [users] later decide to change the default settings, they have to work more than 15 clicks or factory reset their phone. They also complain that the Chrome desktop and other operating systems are not included and worry that “this does not apply to all aspects of search in Android.”

The providers call for Google to be banned from having default search access points in operating systems and browsers, and demand that “consumers can switch at the click of a button at any time via prompts. ‘applications of 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 legislative 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 research company has gone bankrupt. A German company called Cliqz invested 100 million euros in creating its own search algorithm and went bankrupt. Google playing on time is a big deal.

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

In Russia, Kroll said: “Yandex has fallen to 20 percent market share. Then they got a real fixed date choice screen and it’s back to 60%. I’m not saying we should do everything like Russia is doing, 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 few times, and if you can, Google keeps showing warning messages like “are you sure you want to keep this search engine?” And they highlight the No button.

“The other thing Google does is whenever they don’t own an ecosystem, they just pay the money to become the default search provider. Especially Safari. $ 15 billion. They pay 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 search preinstallation is an advertisement. There is no information that you are generating 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 this platform stuff. Google would of course lose more users than we do, ”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 will be successful because you still don’t have market access. 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. “This is critical infrastructure and should be treated that way. And at the moment, this is not the case. “®

Rosemary S. Bishop