The Privacy Problem With Android's 'Choice' Screen

Illustration for article titled The Privacy Problem With Android's 'Choice' Screen
Photo: Leon Neal (Getty Images)

About a year and a half ago, Google began auctioning off the chance to be one of the search engines that European users could choose as their default on Android devices. And for the past year and a half, we’ve seen some familiar ad-targeting giants continue to take those expensive slots.

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This auction was the result of a massive antitrust case spearheaded by European authorities back in 2018. Aside from slamming the company with a $5 billion penalty, regulators also demanded that Google begin offering users a choice upon booting up their Android phones regarding the browser or search app they’d prefer to use, rather than requiring them to use Google’s own. Google obliged, but in the most Google way possible: by requiring that competitors financially duke it out for the chance to be featured in one of four search slots on the coveted Android choice screen.

The results for the latest auction are less than promising. When it comes to the choices, the truth is that tens of millions of Android users are largely going to be choosing between one of four non-Google options when it comes to search: Microsoft-owned Bing, GMX—which is owned by the German digital behemoth United Internet AG, or the ironically named PrivacyWall, which is owned by a major adtech outfit named Social Game Media.

As TechCrunch points out, the one thing that all of these players have in common is reaping immense profits from tracking and targeting users across search, in a way that’s strikingly similar to Google. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that in spite of these other options, the search giant is still, well, a search giant in the region. Aside from swallowing the majority of the search engine market internationally, Google pretty much takes upwards of 85% of the market share in European Union member countries.

When asked about the European Union’s failure to curb Google’s cutthroat behavior in the region, some of Google’s search competitors previously told the Washington Post that this was the natural result of letting Google fix its own problems. In other words, EU authorities literally let Google charge its rivals for the privilege of appearing on the Android selection menu—and challenge the company’s dominant position in the process. Who did they think would win?

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

DISCUSSION

Tebow Kneeled First

I kinda want Microsoft to jump back into Windows Phone.

But seriously we just need to quit giving these people money when they act like dickholes, and it would be easier to do if realistically there was more than Android and iPhone to pick from.

Linux phones aren't real.