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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Google hands Apple billions of dollars annually to be the default search engine on the iPhone giant’s devices, an arrangement that’s coming under renewed scrutiny as part of the government's antitrust suit against Google.

Why it matters: Google is the go-to search engine on mobile devices due to this deal, together with other pacts with wireless carriers and Android device makers. Google says users would pick it anyway, but antitrust enforcers contend the deals give Google a huge advantage over its search rivals.

How it works: Under the deal, all web searches on the iPhone, as well as queries from other devices, are sent by default straight to Google. Users have the option to change that to an alternative like Microsoft’s Bing or privacy-first search site DuckDuckGo, but few bother.

The big picture: It's one of a number of ways that the giants of tech reinforce each other's core businesses even as they compete in other areas.

Between the lines: On top of the antitrust concerns, the deal arguably serves as a workaround that lets Apple preserve its reputation for preserving user privacy while still indirectly making money off Google's harvesting of customer data.

What they're saying: CEO Tim Cook defended the deal in a 2018 interview I did for "Axios on HBO."

"One, I think their search engine is the best. ... But, two, look at what we've done with the controls we've built in. We have private web browsing. We have an intelligent tracker prevention. ... It's not a perfect thing. I'd be the very first person to say that. But it goes a long way to helping."
  • Google also defended the pacts with Apple and others in a blog post, likening them to the way brands pay for shelf space in a supermarket.

My thought bubble: Google need not go that far for an analogy. It's quite common in technology for companies to pay to have their software pre-installed on new phones or PCs, for example. However, such deals have also come under antitrust scrutiny when used to reinforce a dominant market position.

Go deeper

Nov 24, 2020 - Technology

Members of Congress finding agreement on a tech antitrust agenda

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

House Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground on a set of principles for countering tech monopolies that they believe could drive a bipartisan push in the new Congress to update antitrust law.

The big picture: Representatives from both parties are finding it easier to agree on antitrust policy ideas than on proposals about content moderation and liability, where the two parties couldn't be further apart despite agreeing on the need for change.

2 hours ago - World

Iran confirms assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadhe

The Iranian ministry of defense issued a statement on Friday confirming the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadhe, an Iranian scientist and the architect behind the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Fakhrizadhe was the head of the Amad project in the Iranian ministry of defense, which focused on developing a nuclear bomb until 2003.

U.K. to launch new watchdog next year to police digital giants

Photo: Muhammed Selim Korkutata/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The U.K. government said on Friday that it will establish next year a Digital Markets Unit, which will enforce forthcoming "pro-competition" regulations aimed at curbing some of the digital platforms like Google and Facebook.

Why it matters: This is the latest move by a government to respond to growing objections to the size and power these companies have amassed.

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