Aug 10, 2020 - Technology

Google rival's study urges letting mobile users pick search defaults

A photo of the Google app icon displayed on a smartphone.

Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google could lose 20% of the mobile search market that it dominates if more users had the option to choose their default search provider via a preference menu, privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo argues in new research shared exclusively with Axios.

The big picture: DuckDuckGo has met with Justice Department regulators about requiring Google to create a preference menu so Android users can easily switch to a different search provider. This study fleshes out that idea and gives DuckDuckGo ammunition it can give authorities investigating Google for anticompetitive practices in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.

Context: The Justice Department and states are reportedly preparing to bring antitrust cases against Google this year.

  • Google developed the Android operating system, which is used by roughly 80 percent of the global mobile market, and Google's search tools are built into Android in a variety of ways.

How it works: DuckDuckGo conducted user testing of 12,000 people in the U.S., UK and Australia, where Google market share in mobile search is 95%, 98% and 98% respectively.

  • A preference menu could reduce those market shares by 20%, 22% and 16% respectively, the testing found.
  • Testing also concluded that when given options, users scroll through to see the options before making a choice on a search engine.
  • DuckDuckGo also tested user behavior when Google was placed on the last screen of the preference menu, finding no statistically significant difference in how often users selected it.
  • E.U. Android users gained access to a similar menu earlier this year after E.U. authorities fined Google $5 billion over competition concerns involving Android.

What they're saying: "Our pitch for it is that it could be better than other things discussed [as potential remedies]," Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, told Axios. "It's very simple, its implementation is not very complicated, it can be done quickly, and move market share now."

  • DuckDuckGo met with Justice Department staffers this summer to discuss the idea of search preference menus as a remedy to search dominance.
  • "We think the data speaks for itself," Weinberg said, and that regulators were interested in the preference menu. "It's the missing piece."

The other side: "Our focus is firmly on providing free services that help people every day, lower costs for small businesses, and enable increased choice and competition," a Google spokesperson told Axios.

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