ACCC targets Google search, browser dominance

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The ACCC has begun exploring the introduction of “choice screens” in the Australian market as it tightens its focus on US search giant Google.

Choice screens allow users to select a default search provider for use with Android services like the Chrome browser when setting up devices. While Google remains and option the user is also presented with several competitors on setup.

“We know that, in general, setting a default option substantially increases the likelihood that consumers and businesses will stick with that option. This can have the effect of reducing competition and consumer choice in the supply of these services,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

Google is already being forced to introduce choice screens on its new Android devices in Europe following an A$6.6 billion antitrust case led by regulators in 2018.

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Historically, Google has made the Chrome browser and its own search service default on its devices meaning users need to manually change it. Google also has a deal with Apple to be the default search service on its devices, paying the fellow tech giant a reported US $8 to 12 billion to do so.

The ACCC’s wide ranging 2019 digital platform Inquiry raised concerns about Google’s dominance of the local search market, finding the company has held a 93 to 95 per cent share since 2009. Microsoft’s Bing is the only other search provider with an estimated market share of more than one per cent.

According to the ACCC, Google’s position in the search market is “insulated from dynamic competition” in Australia because of high barriers to entry in the search market, including customer inertia and default settings.

One of the Digital Platform Inquiry’s recommendation was for Google to provide Australian consumers with the same choice screens.

In response to the landmark inquiry, the Australian government asked the regulator to monitor Google’s rollout of default choice screens in Europe and report back to it as part of its ongoing monitoring of digital platform companies.

An ACCC issues paper released Friday explores the possibility of choice screens in Australia and the local search and browser market, calling for submissions from stakeholders.

“We would like to hear from consumers and businesses about the impact of the pre-installation of services and default settings on devices on their use of these services. We’re also interested in how the design of user interfaces on devices, such as widgets, search bars, and the steps required for a consumer to change a default search service, can affect how consumers use these services.”

The regulator is also separately probing Google’s role in digital advertising services, an industry intertwined with the search and browser market currently dominated by Google.

Mr Sims said the ACCC is also interested in hearing from stakeholders about the supply of web browsers in Australia and the linkages between search services, web browsers, operating systems and devices as part of the choice screen inquiry.

“The relationships between suppliers, through vertical integration or contractual arrangements, may impact the supply of search services and browsers to Australians.”

The report into choice screens is due to the Treasurer by 30 September 2021. Submissions to the issues paper close April 15.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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