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Android users in Europe will be asked which browser and search engine they want (blog.google)
155 points by ucaetano 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments



> we’ve always agreed on one thing一that healthy, thriving markets are in everyone’s interest.

We're so much in agreement that we're only going to trial that healthy, thriving market in the EU - where we're legally obligated to.


Haha agreed. I'm generally not in favor of regulation, but sadly this does seem to show that it can be effective. Google could have done this before but chose not to. Clearly they don't really believe their own PR, or else they'd institute it worldwide.


I believe they call it, as for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. It's funny how fines can sometimes act on that philosophy in ethical ways.


That's because it's going to cause frustration in users. I guarantee it.


Operating an Android phone for the first time involves going through a wizard for setting up things like language, timezones, wifi, etc.. one more screen in that wizard does not add any frustration


It creates more frustration. Going through that wizard annoys people. It particularly annoys people that speak languages that aren't very widely spread, because the language phones use isn't always easy to understand.


Customers in Europe are used to these choices, it was the same with Microsoft and Windows and their browser.


No, I'm not. Neither are my parents. They get particularly frustrated over it.


"particularly frustrated" over a one time question once every 3 years ?

I'm sensing BS here.


Yes, frustration over a question, because they don't understand why they need to do this complicated stuff "just to access the internet".


If they're worried about users being confused then they can automatically install a random browser and save users the imposition of selecting one. I think the EU would be cool with that.


Yeah, when they realize they could have been using a browser with extension support, like FF with uBO, and have been needlessly tortured using Chrome for years.


> That's because it's going to cause frustration in users. I guarantee it.

Which users, exactly?

The ones who don't know what chrome is other than "my google"? Or even, "my internet"?


Yes.


We also agree so much with a healthy and competitive market that we're still going to appeal all of EC's anti-trust rulings against us.


Maybe to legally force Apple into a similar pattern? I don't know the details of the law.


Apple is not affected by most of these rulings as they only apply to firms that control the majority of a given market (the goal of these laws is to impact potential monopolists, not smaller actors). Apple is not considered to have majority market share in smartphones because iOS represents only 20% of the market, as opposed to Android which is ubiquitous.


That would still be millions of users who don't have a choice.


Apple don't stand to profit from making Safari the default/only browser on iOS. Google have a significant financial interest in directing Android users towards Google search.

The relevant law is Article 102 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, which prohibits an abuse of a dominant position within the common market. Apple don't have a dominant position in the smartphone market, with a share of around 28%; it's not clear that Safari is in any way abusive, rather than simply a legitimate technical decision.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_competition_law...


If apple don't stand to make a profit then why not allow competition. Dominant position or not there are millions of user who don't have a choice. The android case seems more to punish google for their abuses rather then something which would help consumers.


> Apple don't stand to profit from making Safari the default/only browser on iOS.

Yes, it does: it sells placement on that browser, since it is the default browser.

And that's billions of dollars per year.

> Apple don't have a dominant position in the smartphone market

Apple has 100% market share in the "proprietary mobile operating system", just as Android has 100% market share on the "licensable mobile operating system".

Those are the market definitions the EC used to assess the case, not "the whole mobile operating system market".

Get you facts minimally straight :)


Please link one place that has the EC mentioning "proprietary mobile operating system".


It didn't, because it only addressed Android so far:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-1492_en.htm

"At this stage, the Commission considers that Google is dominant in the markets for general internet search services, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system."

Not only the EC used "licensable smart mobile operating systems" but it also used "app stores for the Android mobile operating system".

It assumed that Android does not compete with iOS and that the Play store does not compete with the App store.

So, if Android doesn't compete with iOS, then Apple has a monopoly in it's market: proprietary non-lincesable mobile operating systems.


What distinguishes these users from other users? Is it their choices?

It's manifestly legal to put your own software on your own hardware - I mean duh. Google is in hot water for working the levers to control software on other peoples' hardware.


Why does it only apply to web browsers?


It doesn't. It's also been applied to media players, for example.


No, you're wrong.

They are evaluating Android within the context of "licensable mobile operating systems", within which Android has 100% market share.

Similarly, iOS has 100% market share in the "proprietary mobile operating system" market, and would therefore be subject to the same implications as Google & Android.

The reason why the EC decided to go after Android but not iOS I'll leave for the reader to inquire.


That's a very specious argument: you make the mobile OS market so specific such that both Android and iOS have separate monopolies for very different reasons.

In reality, antitrust law market definition would more likely resort to looking at a customer choice model: as a consumer, I purchase a phone, which can have a given operating system. My choices are between iOS / Android / other. It's that simple.

The "licensable" vs. "proprietary" distinction are distribution models that, from a consumer choice perspective, is irrelevant.


> That's a very specious argument

That isn't an argument, that is literally the market definition used by the EC.

> The "licensable" vs. "proprietary" distinction are distribution models that, from a consumer choice perspective, is irrelevant.

You are literally wrong, and clearly didn't do you homework:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-1492_en.htm

"At this stage, the Commission considers that Google is dominant in the markets for general internet search services, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system."

Not only the EC used "licensable smart mobile operating systems" but it also used "app stores for the Android mobile operating system".

It assumed that Android does not compete with iOS and that the Play store does not compete with the App store.


Just because they mention "licensable" doesn't imply some other category of concern that would involve "proprietary".

You seem very sure of a position that nothing you've linked has highlighted in the slightest.

They are concerned because the dominant licensable OS requires proprietary software and services, which is what the document you linked makes very clear.


Make it "Apple has 100% market share in unlicensable mobile operating systems".

Doesn't change the fact that it has 100% market share in that market, no matter how you call that market.

You can't have your cake and eat it too: you can't defend the ECs case on Android and not demand the same on iOS.

Well, you can, but then we're not talking about antitrust policy, we're talking about politics and picking winners.


> On Android phones, you’ve always been able to install any search engine or browser you want, irrespective of what came pre-installed on the phone when you bought it.

cough cough cough, that google search bar in the home screen by default is pretty Google Search specific.


It's integrated in the launcher, which is a replaceable part of the system. Just pick a launcher that doesn't have it, or makes it optional.


Your parents: "Wait...say that again?"


At least there is an option if you want to. Compare to that to the Android's biggest rival, where different browsers are glorified skins on top of Webkit.


My parents are also the least likely to install a browser other than what comes default


Never explain low level details to parents. Just tell them what to do. In this case, it's as easy as sending them a link like https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.microsoft....


You're getting downvoted for trivializing the user confusion around replacing it, but when I first got Android I did want to get rid of it, and originally didn't know how.

So this is potentially useful information if you've gotten to this point in the thread and are suddenly saying, "wait, I can remove that?"


Are launchers fully replaceable now? I remember years back you could run another launcher but the default launcher process would still execute and remain in the background. Not really a 0 cost choice at that point - especially when phones had weak hardware.


AFAIK they've been for many years.


It doesn't seem to be entirely isolated. Apparently going back to the old app switcher requires you to freeze or uninstall the system launcher, no matter what launcher you're using.


Gotcha, ok. I started using Android ~1.5 I believe, so things have changed radically since the beginning. I recall this being the case in ~2.2 perhaps.


I used Android from 2.0 to 4.4, and the phones I had performed notably better with third party launchers, suggesting the original launcher process wasn't still using system resources.


It will be interesting to see how the different browser choices will be presented. If the EU commission pushes for browsers to be featured with a few lines of text and not just an icon (like they did back in the days with MSFT), it could be a significant problem for Google.

Example: Mozilla would be able to advertise that Firefox provides ad-blocking, as opposed to Chrome which doesn't. This has the potential to hurt mobile advertising revenue significantly.


Listing unique benefits was how the old msft implementation worked: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/BrowserChoice.eu


I like their title

> Supporting choice and competition in Europe

Like it was their initiative!


And only in the EU...

Hey Google, how about supporting choice and competition in the rest of the world?


So what's the point? You could always install a different browser and search engine, and that really isn't so difficult that an average user couldn't figure it out. I'm all for combating anticompetitive practices but this really doesn't look like one. This just gives me a "users are idiots" vibe.


> that really isn't so difficult that an average user couldn't figure it out [...] This just gives me a "users are idiots" vibe

It's not a matter of difficulty, but rather a matter of awareness. Based on my experience from friends and family, I have reason to believe there is a significant chunk of Android users who don't know they can use an alternative default browser. Most people just click on the Chrome icon that comes built-in at the bottom of their home screen, and that's all for them. It's not the average HN user we are talking about, obviously...


Yes, and now that average user goes: why can't I use the internet on my phone? It gives me this stupid pop up and I don't know how. Please fix it.


Last LG I bought came with some vanilla non-Chrome browser preinstalled. I don't know if from AOSP or from LG themselves. Has that changed in the last years? If not, how does this affect companies like LG?


Defaults matter. Users don't change defaults unless they have a good reason to, and statistically they don't.


If it didn’t matter, Google wouldn’t pay so much to be the default search engine everywhere.


It's the same as the browser choice system that Microsoft had to implement. I have no doubt that it helped Firefox and then Chrome gain market share. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/BrowserChoice.eu


Given the amount of trouble a new phone will already give a user, I sincerely doubt the average user wants to spend a lot of time figuring out what the alternatives actually are and how to get them. They want a phone that works right, and they should have a choice about what that means. That's what these laws should be giving them.


Probably as useful as the cookie warning law.

If this meant the Google stuff was not going to be installed if you choose different and the device was still going to be fully functional (you could still install apps from the store) that would be something but I doubt this is the case.

By the way, why do they use the Chinese《一》character instead of hyphens?


> By the way, why do they use the Chinese《一》character instead of hyphens?

Are you sure that’s not an emdash?


Copy and paste the character then run it through a search engine, is definitely the Chinese/Japanese character for 'one'.


Maybe it's a watermark technique.


I don't think so, I can't see what the point would be. Why watermark a blog post, incidentally making screen readers read out weird things, affecting accessibility?


I thought so too, but for some reason they're actually using cjk unified ideograph 4e00, 一 which is the Chinese (also used in Japanese) character for 1...


It's more like when Microsoft was forced to offer a choice of web browser with certain versions of Windows sold in Europe, less in line with the cookie thing.


It's amusing to see Microsoft managed to turn that law to their advantage.

Before that law came in I could install and use an alternative browser with a minimum of fuss. After, Microsoft insisted they were required by law to display a couple of dialogues telling me their browser was the best in the word, and forcing me to acknowledge each one.

The irony is only people who were going to install an alternative browser anyway got to see those warnings multiple times. I very much doubt it had any effect on anybody who continued to use Microsoft's offering.


Sure, but I classify these in the same cohort - yet another nagscreen that can probably do some tiny good but is hardly going to do significant.


A great day for consumer choice. US should do the same. (They did for Microsoft!)


Fat chance, with the amount of lobbying in Washington DC by Google.


Non-European here. Does iOS have to do the same thing?


No, because Apple do not have a dominant position in the smartphone market within the EU. Google pay Apple billions of dollars a year to make Google the default search engine on iOS devices, which was a significant factor in the European Commission's ruling against Google.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_competition_law...

http://fortune.com/2018/09/29/google-apple-safari-search-eng...


This seems like it would be interesting, given that Google reportedly pays Apple billions of dollars to remain the default on iOS.


Definitely not for search engine, since Apple isn't a potential monopolist in that market. Possibly not for browser either, depending on how popular EU competition authorities think a browser/OS pairing needs to be before looking askance at the cross-promotion.


Probably not since Apple doesn't license iOS to anyone else and solely controls it.


Does that matter? I would think it would have to do with market share more than any licensing. iOS has ~28% share in the EU.

http://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/mobile/europe


It matters, the EC defined the market as "licensable mobile operating systems", and not "mobile operating systems".

If they were looking at "mobile operating systems", their antitrust ruling would make no sense.


Therefore, if Google and all the Android OEMs merged, no antitrust action would be taken with regards to Android apps. Is that correct?


You're assuming that the action was based on policy, not on politics.


Doesn't this subvert googles entire reason for building Android. Shouldn't they just start charging in europe to use the software there? Like is would incentivize them to push updates for europe


Just an anecdote here, but I use Google and Chrome on Linux, where it's not default, as well as Android.


How do I get my browser on the list?

(And it totally is a browser and not some keylogger and bitcoin miner with a copy of lynx on top.)


The cynic in me is worried that Google taking its ball and going home: if Chrome can't be the default, then nobody can.

I'm excited for increased choice, but Google is starting this race from a position backed by a decade of anti-competitive licensing agreements around Android. From the press release, this move seems designed to preserve that lead by preventing other vendors from offering meaningful defaults.

I'd be especially curious to hear from the Samsung Internet team, as the press release states that Google will be "asking users of existing and new Android devices" which browser they would like to use.


Why just Europe?


It's a move to appease the European Commission.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-google-android-idUSKCN...

> Google could be fined up to 5 percent of Alphabet’s average daily worldwide turnover if it fails to comply with the EU order to stop anti-competitive practices.


Because the EU has a history of at least pretending to care about consumer rights, and (more) aggressively going after anti-competitive practices?


Yeah, and this pretending comes at the annoyance of the end-user.


I've never met a real person that's actually annoyed at these regulations, only spurious internet humans.


Then I'm a "spurious internet human".

This rash of Cookie warnings that has infested the internet and pisses me off no end. For the life of me I can't see what useful purpose it serves.

Worse, they's managed to do this twice now.


You've never met anyone in real life that is annoyed by cookie pop ups? I find that hard to believe.


In much the same way most people don't care at all about advertising modals save for maybe a grunt meant to signify some annoyance, most people don't care about cookie popups.


Obviously companies love to give the EU a wipe for the imposed regulations.

That's easier than doing your homework.


I can only read so much horse manure in one sitting, bravo google, bravo


Sure, we'll allow you to change that stuff!! (thank goodness they didn't ask what the OS itself is collecting)


I wish Google would take a page from Apple's book and be more forceful with their public responses to this stuff.

Basically like Apple saying that they invest in their products and Spotify just wants a free ride (which I agree with) Google has an even better case as they also let users sideload apps and change defaults.


>Basically like Apple saying that they invest in their products and Spotify just wants a free ride (which I agree with)

nobody's going to use a phone that isn't supported by applications. In fact every application provided by developers to the apple ecosystem increases the marginal value of the phone. In what world is that free riding? And why would anyone support this egregious behaviour of giant companies commanding around the rest of the market?


Commission for marketing and/or maintaining a platform for sale is not uncommon... They’ve got a store, and if you’d like to sell there then you have to pay a commission.

My real issue is that there is no alternative. You can’t opt out and use a different store.


>Commission for marketing and/or maintaining a platform for sale is not uncommon

I think this would be a strong point if commissioning the store was the primary means of income for apple. But apple strategically uses the fees to attack their competitors. Squeezing spotify for example with a 30% fee while at the same time pushing out apple music for a ~30% lower price.

That in my mind is not a content agnostic platform seeking to make money as a service provider, but leveraging a platform to attempt to gain monopolistic power by force.


> In what world is that free riding?

In the world where there exists a platform where paid software on that platform gets 30% of its revenue automatically sucked out just by virtue of existing on that platform


[flagged]


What does that mean? Creating a trebuchet doesn't give you the privilege to sling projectiles at the neighboring town, right?

You are allowed to do what you please with your things within the confines of the law. A government creates laws to promote the wellbeing of the populace. In this case, they decided that it's no longer lawful for Google to set a default browser, so Google shouldn't do it anymore.


> Creating a trebuchet doesn't give you the privilege to sling projectiles at the neighboring town, right?

The difference here is that you did not create the town. It is publically created and publicly owned. Your rights and privileges ends where someone else's begins

> A government creates laws to promote the wellbeing of the populace

Yes, but it does so by creating an environment where individuals can choose for themselves what wellbeing means to them


We're not talking about inflicting bodily harm, it's a different context where the "well being of the populace" isn't guaranteed nor is achieving it the motive here.

It might be legal for a government that is driven by populist and protectionist agenda to target the useful and unique inventions of foreign companies but it isn't fair and it infringes on the natural rights of these companies.


>Google has an even better case as they also let users sideload apps and change defaults.

Google already lost their case; they were fined $5bn.

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/18/630030673/eu-hits-google-with...


Oh Christ. I wish I could just express "give me your version" as a setting on some universal identity service and they'd leave me alone.


"Which interface to the Webkit/Blink browser technology do you want?"

"Which provider of Google Search results do you want?"

I will cheekily assume Microsoft are still craftily getting Google search queries into Bing somehow. And that Duck Duck Go, Ecosia, Yahoo and everything else are dipping into the Google goodness.

The EU should build their own search engine and browser. That is what is happening in places like Russia and China where they don't want to be reliant on Silicon Valley.

It seems silly to be not view information search and presentation of web pages as a strategic thing in this day and age, particularly when there is Five Eyes snooping in.


> “Which interface to the Webkit/Blink browser technology do you want?"

Firefox for Android uses Gecko, not Webkit/Blink.


> I will cheekily assume Microsoft are still craftily getting Google search queries into Bing somehow. And that Duck Duck Go, Ecosia, Yahoo and everything else are dipping into the Google goodness.

What?


He is saying that non-google search engines are just repackaging google search results because no one actually has the resources to build a search engine anymore. Bing was already caught doing this like 10 years back if I remember correctly, and while I doubt Bing still does this, I bet a number of the smaller players do.

It's as easy as setting up a lambda with headless chromium and then integrating those results into whatever internal results your system has (if any) on the fly. Google is fast enough that this could be done without any perceptible performance impact, and that's ignoring the possibility of massive caching of common searches. It will look like normal web traffic to google, and the lambda network will result in a diversity of IP addresses, so it might never get flagged.


It's quite easy to catch this behaviour by issuing unique queries and looking at Google web server logs. Which means that all these companies have to get permission from Google for repackaging the results.


I presume you are referring to AWS Lambda in which case wouldn't the IP addresses be within the IP range used by AWS? If so, Google might have already blocked those IPs.


Yes, except they haven't because I've done exactly this in a lambda with no issues.


Bing got 'caught' doing something completely innocuous: using opt-in data about what Bing Toolbar users click on to improve search results. They never looked at what google would return for any searches. Google had to install the Bing Toolbar, enable that data sharing, and actively submit their 'honeypot' keyword->click data to Bing before it would show up in Bing results.


> using opt-in data about what Bing Toolbar users click on

lol specifically, what Google search results Bing Toolbar users click on and what query they had entered in Google to get those results.


Specifically every link they every clicked on, on every web site.

Yes some fraction of this was on google. That's not cheating. No content from google was transmitted back to Bing. Just the next site the users went to. Is Bing supposed to go through the logs looking for visits to google and then delete the rest of the session because it might indirectly reveal something about what existed on the google page?

I should own my records about what pages I go to, not Google. If I share them with Bing it's nobody else's business.


> every link they every clicked on, on every web site. [...] No content from google was transmitted back to Bing. Just the next site the users went to.

Your theory cannot explain how Bing associated that "next site" with the specific search term the user had entered in Google.

If you had clicked a link on HackerNews, it wouldn't have shown up in Bing under some random search phrase. It's obvious that Microsoft parsed the search query out of the google.com URL, and the only reason why you'd do that is to mine what results were being presented for each search query.


Gecko exists, and DuckDuckGo doesn’t use Google, so it’s not like you have no real options.




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