Australian antitrust committee eyes Apple’s lucrative Google search deal

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Is Apple’s deal to make Google Safari’s default search engine anticompetitive?
An Australian government agency is probing Apple and Google for anticompetitive practices.
Photo: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels CC

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is gathering data for a report on whether Google and Apple abuse their ability to pick default web browsers and search engines in their operating systems to squeeze out smaller competitors.

And Australia is just one of many countries probing the business practices of big tech companies. These investigations might eventually be followed by lawsuits or legislation that forces Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. to change the way they do business.

Australia looking into Apple and Google default apps

iOS, macOS, Windows and Android come with default web browsers. And these generally have Google as the default search engine. The ACCC wants to know, “the impact of pre-installation and default settings on consumer choice and competition particularly in relation to online search and browsers.”

It prepared an “issues paper” discussing its inquiry and inviting public comment. This points out that iPhone and iPad are very popular in Australia, making the mobile version of Safari the most-used browser. And Google Chrome is in second place, while Chrome dominates the desktop browser market.

All these browsers have Google as their default search engine. Apple reportedly receives billions of dollars from Google for that privilege.

Users can change the defaults. Apple allows users to pick a different web browser and a alternative search engine, for example. The ACCC says it will look into what effect pop-up screens that remind users of these options would have.

To be clear, at this point the Australian government agency isn’t accusing Apple or Google of anticompetitive behaviors. It’s only looking to see if there are any. It’s full report will be published September 30, 2021.

Before then, the ACCC will release a separate report that will focus on “mobile app marketplaces and examine issues including the use and sharing of data by apps, the extent of competition between app providers on Google and Apple’s app marketplaces, and the app marketplaces’ relationships with consumers.” It’s due March 31, 2021.

Join the judicial crowd

The EU is reportedly much farther along in its probe of Apple, and is close to filing antitrust charges for the way the App Store is run. The UK is just beginning its own investigation of the App Store.

And the US congress included Apple into a multi-year antitrust investigation of Big Tech, though most of the focus was on Facebook and Google.