Google invites search providers to bid for Android inclusion in secret auction

Tech giant makes changes to Android search after $5bn European Commission fine.

Google: allowing third-party providers to bid for Android search
Google: allowing third-party providers to bid for Android search

Google is opening a "sealed" auctioning process that will allow third-party search providers to bid for inclusion on a "choice screen" that appears when users set up their Android phone.

From 2020, new Android phone and tablet owners will be presented with a list of three providers and will be asked to select which one they want to power a search box on their home screen and as default in their Chrome app.

The move follows Google's $5bn fine by the European Commission over anti-trust violations.

Google has opened the auction process today for any providers operating in Europe that want to participate. Eligible providers will have to fill out an application form and can then bid for inclusion.

A series of "first-priced sealed-bid" auctions will be held on a country-by-country basis. Providers will blindly compete to be included in Android's search options between 1 January and 31 December 2020. Further auctions will be held for subsequent years.

Each provider must stipulate a price it is willing to pay each time a user selects the provider from the set-up screen. Each country has been set an undisclosed minimum bid threshold, with the three highest bidders winning a place.

In the event of a tie, Google said it will "allocate the slots randomly among the tied bidders". If fewer than three make the grade, Google will "fill any remaining slots randomly from the pool of eligible search providers".

The EC's $5bn fine came after Google was found to be skewing Chrome and other proprietary search towards Android. Earlier this year, the company launched an option for Android phone users to download third-party search and browser apps from the Google Play store in a move that aimed to comply with the ruling.

Third-party search providers have until 13 September to submit their applications and bids, with Google planning to confirm the winners on 31 October.

Google described the auction as "a fair and objective method to determine which search providers are included in the choice screen".

It added: "It allows search providers to decide what value they place on appearing in the choice screen and to bid accordingly."