The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has Google’s search dominance in its crosshairs and has recommended giving other players a chance in the search engine space.
The national consumer watchdog claimed in its third Digital Platform Services Inquiry interim report that Google Search holds a 94 per cent market share in Australia as it comes as the default search engine on Google’s own Chrome browser and Apple’s Safari browser — the two top browsers in the country.
To combat this, the ACCC has proposed implementing a mandatory search engine choice screen on Android devices and giving itself more search-related powers.
Google’s dominance is compounded by the fact that a survey commissioned by the ACCC found most consumers stay with their devices’ pre-installed browser and pre-set search engine, as well as one in four consumers claiming they don’t know how to change search engines on mobile devices.
“This is likely to have stifled innovation and reduced consumer choice,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said. “It means that consumers may not be exposed to or aware of other options, such as search engines that protect users’ privacy and/or have an ecological focus, which limits the ability of these businesses to grow.”
The search engine choice screen, which would apply to new and existing Android mobile devices, follows a decision made by the European Commission in 2019 which saw Google implement choice screens on new Android devices in Europe last year.
“Choice screens can give consumers the opportunity to make an informed choice about the search engine they use,” Sims said. "Choice screens can also help reduce barriers to expansion for competitors to Google, who may offer consumers more options for alternative search engines around issues like privacy and how personal data is collected and used.”
However, the consumer watchdog claimed there were “many deficiencies” in these arrangements.
“The ACCC will continue to monitor significant developments and proposals overseas, where similar concerns have been identified. We will continue to work with our international colleagues, sharing lessons and advancing regulatory reform as appropriate,” Sims added.
In addition, the ACCC also suggested for it to be given new search-engine related powers, claiming it would “improve competition and consumer choice in search”.
This includes potentially restricting dominant search engines from tying or bundling search services with other goods or services.
“We are carefully considering these potential measures, which would sit alongside the rules and powers proposed in the ACCC’s Ad Tech Final Report,” Sims said.
“The framework for these rules and powers will be considered as part of the fifth report of the Digital Platform Services Inquiry. The ACCC intends to commence consultation regarding these potential proposals for broader regulatory reform in 2022,” he added.
This proposal to depower Google Search is the ACCC’s latest attempt to defang the global tech giant in Australia, following comments made by Sims in August claiming new rules and regulations may be needed to combat the dominance of Google and Apple’s app stores.
Sims also came out swinging against the two tech companies in April, alleging that “there are significant issues with how this market is operating”.