Google to Introduce a Browser Ballot on Android in the EU

Posted on March 20, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Google, Mobile with 26 Comments

Now there is literally nothing that Microsoft has done that Google won’t copy: The online giant revealed today that it will offer a browser ballot on Android in the EU, duplicating the choice that Microsoft once offered there in Windows.

News of a browser ballot—my term, not Google’s—came via an open letter from Google senior vice president Kent Walker in response to the EU’s third major antitrust charge against the online giant. It was presented as part of a series of recent changes that Google is making to Android and its online shopping service—the targets of the first two EU charges—in order to address the European Commission’s demands.

“We’ve been listening carefully to the feedback we’re getting, both from the European Commission, and from others,” Mr. Walker writes. “As a result, over the next few months, we’ll be making further updates to our products in Europe.”

Walker notes that Google has always allowed users to install any web browser and make it the default, a feature that Apple conspicuously denies to iOS users. And that it previously agreed—somewhat snarkily—to address the EC’s concerns about Android licensing by separating the licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search. “In doing so,” he claims, “we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.” It also effectively raised the price of Android to phone makers in the EU, but whatever. This was cagey if not brilliant move on its part.

But now it has agreed to take an additional step to put the Android-related antitrust complaints in Europe behind it.

“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,” Mr. Walker notes. “This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.”

Yep. Google is introducing a browser ballot. Just like Microsoft did in the EU 10 years ago, in 2009.

“European consumers who buy a new Windows PC with Internet Explorer set as their default browser would be shown a ‘ballot screen’ from which they could, if they wished, easily install competing browsers from the Web,” Microsoft’s Brad Smith wrote. At that time, Internet Explorer had a usage share of about 66 percent, roughly the same as Google’s Chrome today.

“We’ve always tried to give people the best and fastest answers, whether direct from Google, or from the wide range of specialist websites and app providers out there today,” Mr. Walker concludes. “These latest changes demonstrate our continued commitment to operating in an open and principled way.”

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