Google accused of trying to push out search engine rivals

Google has been accused of plotting to squeeze rival search engines out of the market by restricting choice on its smartphones. Read More...

Google has been accused of plotting to squeeze rival search engines out of the market by restricting choice on its smartphones.

The internet search giant is under fire after it told Britain’s competition watchdog it may stop giving Android phone owners a choice of browser when setting up their phone.

It comes after the company was forced to offer a “choice screen” of search engines following a European competition ruling in 2018 – when Britain was still part of the EU.

However, that five-year agreement is believed to have expired and Google’s smaller rivals DuckDuckGo and Ecosia have accused the tech giant of planning to renege on the agreement in Britain.

They claim this would reduce their traffic and harm revenues.

The Telegraph understands DuckDuckGo, Ecosia and consumer rights group Which? have written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to voice their concerns, with the regulator recently locked in talks with Google.

The US internet behemoth was fined £3.9bn six years ago by the European Union for illegally abusing its dominance on smartphones and steering users towards using its own search engine.

As a result, it was ordered by Brussels to introduce software changes that made it easier for consumers to choose rival browsers.

The so-called choice screen tool offers consumers various search engines to pick from when they set up their phones, providing a boost to challengers against Google, which enjoys more than 90pc market share in Britain.

In Europe, Google has been required to keep the choice screen under the bloc’s new digital rules. But in Britain, a new digital act has only just come into effect and Google is not under the same strictures. 

Shula Teare van Hagan, associate general counsel for DuckDuckGo – a privacy-focused search engine with 100m users, said: “We have been told directly by Google that they intend to remove it, we made the CMA aware of that fact, and they have been having conversations with Google.”

In blog posts explaining recent updates to its choice screen, Google only said the tool would show for “new and existing Chrome users… in the EEA”.

Google is facing a regulatory crackdown in Europe under the bloc’s new digital market rules, which threaten fines worth billions of euros for anti-competitive behaviour.

Britain has also recently strengthened its own competition rules with the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which hands more power to the CMA to police tech giants.

It is understood Google has been in talks with the CMA about its choice screen and the tech giant has made no final decision to remove it.

A Google spokesman said: “We have always believed in offering people choice and control and Android phones offer people and businesses more choice than any other mobile platform. 

“We currently provide a choice screen for general search providers on all new Android phones and tablets in Europe, including the UK.”

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