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Australia probing default search engines & browsers on devices; Google & Apple in the spotlight

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has its sights on the way in which popular browsers and search engines are being offered on devices.

The ACCC has made a call for submissions from consumers and industry participants as it makes a probe into “choice screens,” an initial screen option offering consumers a choice when it comes to what browser and search services are on their mobiles and tablets. The ACCC’s report is looking into the impact of manufacturers pre-selecting and pre-installing browsers and search engines on a device’s software operating system.

The Australian Government requested an inquiry by the ACCC following their 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report, which found that that the Google Chrome browser was pre-installed on nearly all Android devices, with Google Search not only the default search engine on Google Chrome, but on Apple’s Safari mobile browsers as well. Unsurprisingly, this leads to Google Search having quite the market share on mobile devices: 95 per cent.

There’s also the matter of Google paying Apple huge amounts to ensure its search engine is the default. The US Department of Justice filed a complaint against Google in 2020, claiming Google makes Google Search the default search engine on Safari and iPhone services like Siri by paying Apple an estimated $US8 to12 billion – per year. As The New York Times reported in 2020, “it is probably the single biggest payment that Google makes to anyone and accounts for 14 to 21 percent of Apple’s annual profits.”

The ACCC is looking to implement Europe’s approach in Australia. Following a European Commission decision in 2019, Google announced it would be giving Android users the ability to have a default search service and web browser of their own choosing. The aforementioned Choice Screen was provided on all new Android phones and tablets shipped in Europe, allowing search providers to bid in order to appear as an option alongside other providers during initial device 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 in a statement.

“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.”

“We’re also interested in competition in the supply of web browsers in Australia and the linkages between search services, web browsers, operating systems and devices. The relationships between suppliers, through vertical integration or contractual arrangements, may impact the supply of search services and browsers to Australians.”

Most used in Australia

In Australia, as of January 2021, the ACCC reports that Safari is the most used browser on smartphones and tablets with around 51 per cent of use. Chrome comes in second with 39 percent, followed by Samsung Internet with 7 per cent and Mozilla Firefox with less than 1 per cent.

On desktops, Chrome leads the browser race with 62 per cent of the market share, followed by Safari with 18 per cent, Edge with 9 per cent, and Mozilla Firefox with 6 per cent.

Google Search is the default search engine across Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Samsung Internet, although Edge has a point of different with Bing as its default.

The third interim report for the Digital Platform Services Inquiry will be due to the Treasurer by 30 September 2021. The ACCC’s report can be read in full HERE.

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Guillermo Troncoso

Guillermo Troncoso

Guillermo is the Editor of Dynamic Business and Manager of film &amp; television entertainment site ScreenRealm.com. Follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/gtponders">Twitter</a>.

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