Google struggles to give android users choice of apps, says EU

Google will now face a battle for survival as rivals are trying to appeal to phone users. (Bloomberg pic)

BRUSSELS: Google is still grappling with how to give phone users the chance to opt for competing browser and search apps in the wake of a European Union (EU) order to boost competition, according to the bloc’s antitrust commissioner.

The Alphabet unit said in March it would soon display a choice screen to Android mobile phone users in Europe so they had the option of picking alternatives to Google’s search app and Chrome web browser.

But Margrethe Vestager, who has fined Google 8.2 billion euros over the past two years for antitrust violations, told reporters at a Brussels press conference that “it seems somewhat challenging to produce a choice screen that really will give consumers a choice that is for real and this is why it is taking some time” to be rolled out.

The EU demanded the changes, saying Google’s practices of tying the apps to Android cemented the dominance of its search engine, thwarting any potential rivals.

Other search and browser apps have voiced skepticism that the new screen would really help users choose rivals to Google.

There will be two different launches for existing Android phones and for new Android phones, Vestager said.

Prompts to change the default setting of search within the browser “is only doable, so I have been informed, with the new phones,” she said. “A lot of our searches take place within the browser and here the default setting is of crucial importance as to which search engine you actually get to use.”

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Vestager’s remarks or when it expected to roll out the choice screens in Europe.