Google is widely expected to be handed a third antitrust fine in Europe this week, with reports suggesting the European Commission’s decision in its long-running investigation of AdSense could land later today.
Right on cue the search giant has PRed another Android product tweak — which it bills as “supporting choice and competition in Europe”.
In the coming months Google says it will start prompting users of existing and new Android devices in Europe to ask which browser and search apps they would like to use.
This follows licensing changes for Android in Europe which Google announced last fall, following the Commission’s $5BN antitrust fine for anti-competitive behavior related to how it operates the dominant smartphone OS.
tl;dr competition regulation can shift policy and product.
Albeit, the devil will be in the detail of Google’s self-imposed ‘remedy’ for Android browser and search apps.
Which means how exactly the user is prompted will be key — given tech giants are well-versed in the manipulative arts of dark pattern design, enabling them to create ‘consent’ flows that deliver their desired outcome.
A ‘choice’ designed in such a way — based on wording, button/text size and color, timing of prompt and so on — to promote Google’s preferred browser and search app choice by subtly encouraging Android users to stick with its default apps may not actually end up being much of a ‘choice’.
Using the Play Store for the prompt would require an Android device to have Google’s app store pre-loaded — and licensing tweaks made to the OS in Europe last year were supposedly intended to enable OEMs to choose to unbundle Google apps from Android forks. Ergo making only the Play Store the route for enabling choice would be rather contradictory. (As well as spotlighting Google’s continued grip on Android.)
Add to that Google has the advantage of massive brand dominance here, thanks to its kingpin position in search, browsers and smartphone platforms.
So again the consumer decision is weighted in its favor. Or, to put it another way: ‘This is Google; it can afford to offer a ‘choice’.’
In its blog post getting out ahead of the Commission’s looming AdSense ruling, Google’s SVP of global affairs, Kent Walker, writes that the company has been “listening carefully to the feedback we’re getting” vis-a-vis competition.
Though the search giant is actually appealing both antitrust decisions. (The other being a $2.7BN fine it got slapped with two years ago for promoting its own shopping comparison service and demoting rivals’.)
“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search,” Walker continues. “In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.”
Other opinions are available on those changes too.
Such as French pro-privacy Google search rival Qwant, which last year told us how those licensing changes still make it essentially impossible for smartphone makers to profit off of devices that don’t bake in Google apps by default. (More recently Qwant’s founder condensed the situation to “it’s a joke“.)