If you remember all the way back in 2009, the EU’s European Commission said Microsoft was harming competition by bundling its browser—Internet Explorer—with Windows. Eventually Microsoft and the European Commission settled on the “browser ballot,” a screen that would pop up and give users a choice of browsers. Almost 10 years later, the tech industry is going through this again, this time with Google and the EU.
After receiving “feedback” from the European Commission, last night Google announced it would offer Android users in the EU a choice of browsers and search engines.
In July, the European Commission found Google had violated the EU’s antitrust rules by bundling Google Chrome and Google Search with Android, punishing manufacturers that shipped Android forks, and paying manufacturers for exclusively pre-installing Google Search. Google was fined a whopping $5.05 billion (€4.34 billion) (which is it appealing) and then the concessions started. Google said its bundling of Search and Chrome funded the development and free distribution of Android, so any manufacturer looking to ship Android with unbundled Google apps would now be charged a fee. Reports later pegged this amount as up to $40 per handset.
Android is a free and open source operating system, so Google’s control over Android is derived from the Google apps. Anyone can take the core Android package and distribute it without Google’s involvement, but if they want access to the millions of apps on the Google Play Store, they will need to license that from Google. It’s the same story with killer apps like Google Maps, Search, Gmail, and YouTube. Android is free (as in speech); the Google apps are not. Previously, shipping Android without the Google apps—”forking” Android—would mean expulsion from the Google ecosystem. Google was forced to lift this restriction as part of the EU concessions, and now manufactures can simultaneously ship forked Android and Google Android on different devices.
We don’t have many details on exactly how Google’s new search and browser picker will work; there’s just a single paragraph in its blog post. Google says it will “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.”