Bing and other smaller search providers win Google’s latest Android choice screen auction

Google’s latest Android “choice screen” auction results saw Microsoft’s Bing win in all the major markets in Europe, alongside three other search engines from small independent providers. But while it may look like the search giant has done the right thing after being fined $5 billion for anticompetitive behavior, some of its rivals think the auction is designed to prevent Google from bleeding market share.
Last year, Google promised it would soon let Android users choose an alternative search engine to govern their smartphones. The company devised a country-specific auction where alternative search providers could bid for one of three slots alongside Google in a choice screen shown during device setup.

The results for the October-December auction are in, and it looks like the big winners are Bing, GMX, Info.com, and PrivacyWall — these will show up for a majority of the countries in Europe, including major markets like Germany, France, and the UK. By contrast, DuckDuckGo and Yandex only won in a few of the smaller countries, despite the former managing to win in all 31 countries in the first auction earlier this year.

Google says that “in developing the choice screen for Europe, we carefully balanced providing users with yet more choice while ensuring that we can continue to invest in developing and maintaining the open-source Android platform for the long-term. […] An auction is a fair and objective method to determine which search providers are included.”

Naturally, rival search providers disagree. DuckDuckGo believes the auctions are rigged by Google to ensure continued dominance of its own search engine. DuckDuckGo CEO and founder Gabriel Weinberg says that his search engine didn’t win in more countries because search providers are incentivized to bid close to what they can expect to earn in profit for every user they gain.

Weinberg notes that while DuckDuckGo has been “robustly profitable” since 2014, the focus on user privacy and a clean search experience translates into a lot less profit per search. This results in a lower bid in Google’s auction, where some rival search engines with less strict privacy policies and more aggressive advertising strategies stand to win.

In a study conducted earlier this year with 9,000 Android users across the US, UK, and Australia — where Google holds over 95 percent of the mobile search market — DuckDuckGo found that a different design for the search engine choice screen on Android could lead to a significant change in Google’s market share. Many users still went with Google even if when it was placed last on a complete list of alternatives, but its share would still drop between 16 and 20 percent.