Europe’s technological landscape is highly skewed. However, as members of the European Parliament prepare to vote on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in plenary on Wednesday; there is an opportunity to alter this trajectory. MEPs must maintain significant legislative progress, such as in the area of ad platforms, as well as the European Commission’s recent major victories, such as the Google Shopping case and the Android choice screen, demonstrating the EU’s ability to take concrete action to create a fair and competitive European market.
Following the important Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee decision last month, MEPs must now obtain a majority on key amendments filed ahead of the plenary. Those focusing on default settings are the most important, as they would ultimately prevent tech giants like Google from locking down search defaults on gatekeeping platforms, giving European customers meaningful choices across mobile and desktop devices for the first time.
The great majority of internet users never select their search engine, and 95% of people utilize their default platform. The importance of default settings is demonstrated by data and considering the sums paid by Google to guarantee its preset default position on other gatekeeping platforms. It is no surprise that the internet giant maintains a 97 percent search engine market share mobile in Europe.
Following sustained pressure from independent search engines like Ecosia, the European Commission ordered Google to remove the pay-to-play element of its Android choice screen last summer — a widely panned self-concocted remedy devised by Google in the aftermath of its €4.3 billion monopolistic behavior fined in 2018. According to our preliminary statistics, search traffic on Android mobile devices increased by about 7% in just two months after Google opened up the options screen to other providers – a 50 percent rise in the future year based on current forecasts.
We know that if given the option to pick their default search engine, an increasing number of Europeans will opt for alternatives to Google that are more in line with their environmental or privacy principles. However, as emphasized in this joint letter signed by Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and Lilo and aligned with BEUC, Google’s option screen still falls short in a number of areas.
As a result, we collectively called on legislators to ensure that every user on desktop and mobile operating ecosystems has the freedom to choose which search engine they use via a “one-click switch” mechanism, as well as to prohibit sweetheart deals between gatekeepers that currently provide default status on a number of web browsers.
The joint letter also underlines the remedy’s shortcomings, such as the fact that it only applies to a small percentage of the entire mobile market (less than 2%). Millions of current Android users are unable to pick other search engines because of Google’s failure to extend a choice screen beyond new devices, and Google continues to benefit from a proven infringement across all existing mobile devices, not to mention computers (or other devices).
We have been arguing for default settings for years, and we have won. The EU’s anti-competitive determination in the issue of the Android choice screen must now be reflected in EU law through the DMA. Unfortunately, the existing DMA will not prevent Google from holding default positions wherever it can and addressing its established dominance.