Google to Introduce a Browser Ballot on Android in the EU

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

26 responses to “Google to Introduce a Browser Ballot on Android in the EU”

  1. christian.hvid

    Devious. Introduce a browser ballot that everyone's gonna hate and then blame the EU for it. This is not Google being cooperative, this is psychological warfare.

    • JacobTheDev

      In reply to christian.hvid:

      What else do you expect them to do? as Paul noted, they already allow users to download third party browsers and set them as default, so the only remaining thing to make this more accessible to users is to literally ask them what browser they want. I just can't think of any other way Google could comply with the EU's demands.

      • wright_is

        In reply to Jacob-Bearce:

        And the browser was never an issue. It was the restriction from Google that manufacturers could either make AOSP devices or Google Android devices, they couldn't make both.

        If I want a Galaxy S10 or a Mate 20 without the complete Google stack, I am out of luck, because if Samsung or Huawei made an AOSP device for me, they could never sell another "fully configured Google Android" device.

        This is just misdirection for the press on Google's part.

      • christian.hvid

        In reply to Jacob-Bearce:

        I would argue that by proposing the exact same hare-brained scheme that Microsoft and the EC agreed upon in 2009 - and which every European Windows user hated with a passion - Google is effectively putting the Commission in a spot: either they agree to something they know EU citizens won't appreciate at all, or they let Google off the hook in this regard.

        Edit: Europeans are generally getting tired of the EU's rather hamfisted ways of regulating the internet - just the number of times, each day, we have to give our consent to storing a fricking cookie is enough to drive people out of their minds. And it does exactly zero to protect our integrity, since cookies aren't even the problem. Google knows this, of course, and this is why they propose a solution that is guaranteed to annoy consumers even further.

        • wright_is

          In reply to christian.hvid:

          We actually quite like it, thanks all the same. When I go to a site, I open up the cookie settings and disable all advertising and tracking cookies, before I enter a new site.

          Although it is a little easier now, I have set up a Pi-Hole, so some of that is now automated at the DNS level.

          • christian.hvid

            In reply to wright_is:

            Fair point, but you're probably a lot more security minded than the average person, who in all likelihood has no idea what a cookie is and what the implications of allowing cookies are. It's like EULAs - the small subset of users who actually have a law degree may find them informative; the rest of us just click "I agree" and hope for the best.

            • wright_is

              In reply to christian.hvid:

              My wife makes me read all EULAs that she is presented with, before she agrees to them.

              I am not a lawyer, but I always make sure I read the EULA before signing up for a new service or installing new software. Several times I've actually stopped signing up for a service, because I don't agree with the EULA.

              • christian.hvid

                In reply to wright_is:

                That's admirable, but probably very rare. As for myself, I've probably given up the rights to both my kidneys, as well as my firstborn child, to various companies without even knowing it. :)

        • lvthunder

          In reply to christian.hvid:

          It's not just people in the EU about the cookie thing. I live in the US and see it everywhere too. Thanks EU.

  2. dontbe evil

    was stupid for windws and is stupid now for android ... but at least is fair they got the same treatment

  3. nicholas_kathrein

    I think the best part of this is the Chrome will come before Edge alphabetically so even if you don't know anything about this almost everyone will pick the 1st option which is Chrome and Google can say it is in alphabetical order.

    Stick it in the EUs eyes! :)

  4. Daekar

    Hilarious thing: most of the people presented with that ballot have no idea what Chrome or Edge are. I've been asking people "what is a web browser and what does it do?" in job interviews lately, and not a single one has gotten even half the answer right.

  5. dcdevito

    The market will always decide the best product. So while Chrome on Android isn't a big deal because (in my opinion) the best browsers are all chrome based anyway. But the best search engine is still hands down, Google. I tried switching to DuckDuckGo but frankly it's terrible. So give them a choice, but they'll just use the best one anyway.

    • wright_is

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Which is missing the point, the manufacturers can't sell AOSP based devices, if they want to sell Google Android based devices. The browser ballot is a deliberate evasion of the real problem and tries to bring the same ridicule that the Windows browser ballot brought to the Microsoft case, whilst everything else gets swept under the carpet.

      Most people remember the browser ballot, but few remember the concessions around the licensing issues and server API documentation that were the real game changers in the EU anti-trust case against Micrsosoft.

  6. red.radar

    just curious is there a community run App Store for android? I suppose payment processing would be the gotcha.

    Is is it even possible to run android without google? I could find that interesting

    • rederick29

      In reply to red.radar:

      You can install a floss custom rom and then use f-droid("community"-run alternative of play store not made by google) instead of the play store. Should work fine as long as you don't need to use any banking apps or something similar.

    • bill_russell

      In reply to red.radar:

      You can run LineageOS with no Google on many phones. You might even be able to disable Play services and all google apps on a stock phone, not sure.

      But I wouldn't recommend the alternative of 3rd party app stores and sideloading, all in the name of staying away from "big brother" google, if that's what you are looking for.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to red.radar:

      Amazon's tablets use Android without the Play Store.

  7. raheemreo

    Great article, Good information