Europe has a deeply uneven tech playing field. But as members of the European Parliament prepare to vote in plenary on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) on Wednesday, there’s a chance to correct this course.
MEPs must sustain significant progress made within the legislation, such as with regard to ad platforms, as well as the major wins brought home by the European Commission over recent months such as the Google Shopping case and Android choice screen — demonstrating the EU’s ability to take concrete action to create a fair and competitive European market.
MEPs must now secure a majority on key amendments tabled ahead of the plenary and following the pivotal Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee vote last month. Of most importance are those focused on default settings that would finally prohibit tech giants such as Google from locking up search defaults on gatekeeping platforms and provide European consumers with real choice across mobile and desktop devices once and for all.
Why do default settings matter?
The vast majority of internet users have never chosen their search engine and 95% of people stick with their default platform. Data shows the power of default settings and, given the sums that Google currently pays to secure its preset default position on other gatekeeping platforms, it is no wonder that the tech giant is able to maintain 97% of search engine market share on mobile across Europe.
Last summer, following sustained pressure from independent search engines such as Ecosia, the European Commission instructed Google to drop the pay-to-play element of its Android choice screen — a widely discredited self-devised remedy created by Google following the 2018 Android decision, where it was fined €4.3 billion for monopolistic behavior.
From our preliminary data, we saw our search volumes on Android mobile devices increase by approximately 7% in just two months after Google opened up the choice screen to alternative providers — which, on current projections, amounts to 50% over the coming year.
The free choice screen is a great step, but more needs to be done
We know that when given an opportunity to select their default search engine, more and more Europeans would choose to select alternatives to Google that align more with their environmental or privacy values.
However Google’s choice screen still falls short in a number of ways, as noted in this joint letter signed by Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Qwant and Lilo and in alignment with BEUC.
For this reason, we collectively called on legislators to ensure every user is freely able to choose which search engine they use on desktop and mobile operating ecosystems through a “one-click switch” mechanism, as well as banning sweetheart deals between gatekeepers that currently provide default status on a number of web browsers.
The joint letter also highlights the failures of the remedy to only apply to a fraction (just 2%) of the total mobile market. By failing to extend a choice screen beyond new devices, millions of existing Android users are not able to select alternative search engines and Google continues to profit from a proven infringement across the existing mobile devices, not to mention desktops (or other devices).
We’ve advocated for default settings for years and proved our case. What has been deemed anti-competitive by the EU in the case of the Android choice screen must now be reflected in EU law via the DMA. Unfortunately, the current version of the DMA will not prevent Google from hoarding default positions everywhere it can and addressing its entrenched dominant position.
Crucial time for EU legislators to support default settings in DMA
As the DMA approaches its final crucial stages, we urge EU legislators to resist bending to pressure from gatekeepers at the expense of millions of consumers and push default settings to the top of the priority list. With calls for mandating choice screens reverberating across regulatory bodies around the world in a bid to break Google’s dominance of the search market, the DMA must mandate that all gatekeeper platforms provide users with a fair choice screen at no cost for default settings and allow users to switch their default settings with a clear, accessible one-click switch.
Failing to address default settings in the DMA not only cements the status quo but eradicates the prospect of installing fair competition and real consumer choice for Europeans for years to come, which could undermine the EU’s leading position as it prepares to write the rules for the next chapter of the internet.