Picture: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS
Picture: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

Google would be forced to give up its position as the default search engine on mobile phones and tablets under proposals from Australia’s antitrust watchdog to rein in the tech giant.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Thursday recommended a mandatory choice screen, offering alternative search engine providers, be displayed on current and new mobile devices that run Google’s Android operating system. The watchdog is also considering extending the change to Apple’s iPhones and desktop devices. 

The ACCC said in a report it may demand that users also be offered a choice of internet browsers.

The plan follows a similar arrangement in Europe, where Google has set up a choice screen on Android devices to let users pick search engines run by smaller rivals.

The company’s integration of Google search into Android goes beyond basic text input — it’s part of the voice-activated Google Assistant and several other structural features of the operating system. The provider choice would be just one step towards shaking up the company’s dominance.

Google has a 94% share of the search market in Australia, the ACCC said. Further measures from regulators would prolong an assault on its dominance in the country, which in 2021 passed a world-first law to force Facebook and Alphabet-owned Google to pay publishers for news. 

The ACCC said it plans to start consultations on the proposals. Google is the default search engine on the two most-popular browsers, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, which are pre-installed on most mobile devices in Australia.

“Google’s existing dominance and its commercial arrangements have significantly increased barriers to entry and prevented new or emerging rival search engines from reaching consumers,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

In a statement, Google said pre-installation allows consumers to use services quickly and easily. “People use Google search because it’s helpful, not because they have to,” the company said. “We are continuing to review the report and look forward to discussing it with the ACCC and government.”

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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