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Google rivals pressure EU regulators to end its default search monopoly on browsers

The news: Search engines DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Lilo, and Qwant are calling on EU legislators to end Google’s “hoarding of default positions” on web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers, per Insider. 

  • “Google would not have become the overall market gatekeeper they are today without years of locking up these defaults,” the rivals said in an open letter to the EU. 

The details: Google’s rival search services are demanding that regulators implement rules to make it easier for browser users to set up or switch to alternative search engines. 

  • DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Lilo, and Qwant want alternative search engines to be easily accessible and to be “only one-click away” in browser settings. For example, changing the default search engine on Android devices takes users 15-plus clicks, per DuckDuckGo.
  • Google reportedly paid Apple $15 billion to remain the default search engine on the Safari browser on Macs, iPhones, and iPads in 2021, per Gadgets360. It is also paying Mozilla $450 million per year to be the Firefox browser’s default search per Android Headlines.
  • Google’s Chrome browser commands 69% of the market and has Google Search as the default search engine.  

The bigger picture: Search is Google’s most lucrative business, as it correlates directly with its ad sales business. 

  • The company generated $104 billion in “search and other” revenues in 2020, per CNBC. 
  • Google is also the market leader in online advertising, and is on track to command 29% share of global digital ad spending in 2021.

Why it’s worth watching: Google has demonstrated that it’s using its dominance in smartphones and browsers to further its influence in search and in advertising sales, which could be perceived as monopolistic by regulators. 

  • Google’s Android OS has 72.45% smartphone market share; its Chrome browser owns 65.13% browser market share, according to Statcounter. 

Why this demand could succeed: Armed with anticompetitive complaints from smaller search engines, EU regulators could legislate against having Google Search as the default on browsers. 

  • Furthermore, they could even make a case to separate Google Search and Chrome browser– similar to how regulators fought to unbundle Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser from Windows OS during the antitrust case from 2001.