Following its acrimonious battle with Google and Facebook over media payment laws, the Australian regulator is now targeting the dominance of Google's search engine and web browser services.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is seeking submissions from stakeholders, including consumers and industry participants, to examine the possibility of mandating “choice screens” in all new smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
Choice screens appear when a user starts up their device and it shows the consumer a list of alternative web browser or search engines to choose from, rather than just the one service already preselected by the manufacturer.
Such a move would seek to counteract Google’s dominance in the space, with Google Search being the default search service for over 95 percent of mobile devices in Australia.
Manufacturers of desktops, tablets, and mobiles typically include a pre-installed operating system, and a specific web browser. Web browsers, in turn, often include a default search service, which is embedded within the browser.
“We’re also interested in competition in the supply of web browsers in Australia and the linkages between search services, web browsers, operating systems and devices,” he added. “The relationships between suppliers, through vertical integration or contractual arrangements, may impact the supply of search services and browsers to Australians.”
“We would like to hear from consumers and businesses about the impact of the pre-installation of services and default settings on devices on their use of these services.”
Dr. Rob Nicholls, associate professor at the University of New South Wales and competition law expert, argued that government action may not be enough, “The actual effect on Google is minimal as consumers tend to choose Chrome based on functionality and the portability of settings.”
Google Chrome is heavily integrated with a suite of other free services used by organisations and businesses including Google Search, Gmail, Maps, News, Drive, Maps, Docs, and YouTube.
The ACCC is following in the footsteps of European regulators, who compelled Google to introduce choice screens in 2019.
The ACCC has been tasked by the government to investigate the progress of the European decision and its influence on competition.