Android shake-up: Google agrees to promote rivals to its Chrome and search

Android phone owners in Europe will soon be asked which browser and search engine they want to use.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google's latest response to the European Commission's (EC) record $5bn antitrust fine in July will be to ask Android device owners in Europe which browser and search engine they would like to have. 

Google's senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, announced the move in a blogpost, explaining that the company wanted to ensure Android handset owners "know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones".

Google "over the next few months" will ask owners of existing and new Android devices in Europe which alternatives to Google's apps they wish to use, according to Walker. 

Google's offer to inform Android users about search and browser choices arrives just as the European Commission today hit the company with a €1.49bn ($1.69bn) fine over contracts with third-party websites that locked out rivals from placing search ads on these sites. The EU said Google's misconduct lasted over 10 years beginning in 2006. 

On the earlier Android fine, the EC accused Google of illegally requiring device makers to preinstall its Search app and Chrome as a condition of having the all-important Play Store installed.   

Google also prevented device makers from preinstalling Google apps on forked versions of Android, and the company paid some large phone brands and mobile carriers to exclusively preinstall the Google Search app. 

The EC ruling gave Google 90 days to comply or Google-parent Alphabet would face fines of five percent of average daily worldwide revenue. 

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Google appealed the fine on October 9 and a week later announced that to comply with the ruling it would start charging a fee to Android phone vendors when they preinstall otherwise free Google apps, including Chrome, Gmail, and the Play Store app. 

Walker today stressed that Android users have always had the choice to use whatever apps they want and that the question about which browser and search app they want will help them be informed of those choices. 

"On Android phones, you've always been able to install any search engine or browser you want, irrespective of what came preinstalled on the phone when you bought it. In fact, a typical Android phone user will usually install around 50 additional apps on their phone," wrote Walker. 

"Now we'll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use."

According to Walker, the latest changes demonstrate that Google is committed to operating in an "open and principled way". 

Walker didn't reveal how the company would be presenting the choice of search engine and browsers to Android users, though it could always take a leaf from Microsoft's European Internet Explorer (IE) browser ballot screen, which offered IE users a handful of alternative browsers.    

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