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Google not playing fair after EU’s Android antitrust fine, rivals say

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Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, June 25, 2014.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — Google is still engaged in anti-competitive practices in the mobile search market, according to its smaller competitors, who claim a record antitrust fine from the European Union has done little to reduce the tech giant’s dominance.

The company announced late Monday the results of a quarterly auction to decide the winners of its so-called “choice screen,” which lets Android users in Europe pick their default search engine when setting up their smartphone. The process was introduced last year to appease EU antitrust regulators following their 4.3 billion euro ($5 billion) fine on Google over unfair practices related to its mobile operating system.

Google’s latest auction results show that Microsoft was the main winner across most major European markets, with its Bing search engine coming out on top in the U.K., Germany, France and 10 other countries. Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, which has previously found success with the bidding process, this time features in just four markets — Bulgaria, Croatia, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

“Despite DuckDuckGo being robustly profitable since 2014, we have been priced out of this auction because we choose to not maximize our profits by exploiting our users,” the company wrote in a blog post.

“In practical terms, this means our commitment to privacy and a cleaner search experience translates into less money per search. This means we must bid less relative to other, profit-maximizing companies.”

“The current remedy is not a remedy at all — it is fundamentally rigged by Google to benefit Google. The Commission has said they have been waiting on data to act: such data is now available. To expedite this process, we are sending the (EU) Commission our data that demonstrates exactly how the current process inevitably eliminates DuckDuckGo.”

Ecosia, a search engine that invests its profits into planting trees, also lost out in the auction. It won a spot in just one small market, Slovenia. Google commands an overwhelming majority of the mobile search market in Europe, with its Android system running on almost 75% of the world’s smartphones.

“We’ve long asserted that this pay-for-play model would force out purpose-driven businesses from the Android platform, and here is the proof of that,” said Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll. “Ecosia is the biggest Europe-based search engine, yet users can barely access us in Android via the auction screen.”

It’s worth noting that some lesser-known players, like PrivacyWall and info.com, did make the cut in the latest auction.

Google’s defense

Google maintains that the auction process “allows search providers to decide what value they place on appearing in the choice screen and to bid accordingly.” The company says it is designed to ensure that no search engine is prioritized over another and that the results are determined through competitive bidding.

“Android provides people with unprecedented choice in deciding which applications they install, use and set as default on their devices,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “In developing the choice screen for Europe, we carefully balanced providing users with yet more choice while ensuring that we can continue to invest in developing and maintaining the open-source Android platform for the long-term.”

A European Commission spokesperson told CNBC: “We have been discussing the choice screen mechanism with Google, following relevant feedback from the market, in particular in relation to the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers.”

“The Commission is committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue monitoring closely the implementation of the choice screen mechanism.”

Margrethe Vestager, the bloc’s top antitrust official, has made a name for herself by trying to rein in Google and other internet giants when it comes to anti-competitive practices. She suffered a major loss earlier this year when the EU’s general court ruled the Commission failed to prove that the Irish government gave an unfair tax advantage to Apple. The EU has since appealed that ruling.

Google has so far been hit with three antitrust fines from the EU amounting to more than $9 billion, and is contesting each one through court appeals. The other two fines focus on the company’s shopping comparison service and advertising. A fourth case is said to target the company’s jobs search tool.

News of Google’s latest Android auction — the company’s third so far — favoring Microsoft over smaller players comes as the U.S. Department of Justice readies a lawsuit against the firm following its antitrust investigation into allegations that Google favors its own businesses, such as YouTube, in search results.

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Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah dies at age 91

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Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (C) attends the oppening session of the 30th Arab League summit in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 31, 2019.

Fethi Belaid | AFP | Getty Images

Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, who ruled over his oil-rich country since 2006 and had been its foreign minister for 40 years, including during Saddam Hussein’s invasion, has died. He was 91.

He is expected to be succeeded by his 83-year-old half-brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

“With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn to the Kuwaiti people, the Arab and Islamic nations, and the friendly peoples of the world, the death of the late His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of the State of Kuwait who moved next to his Lord,” the royal palace said in a statement, according to state media. Monday’s announcement didn’t say when he died or where.

Sheikh Sabah underwent surgery in July 2020 for an unspecified medical problem and was flown to the United States for further treatment. Before doing so, he temporarily handed over some of his responsibilities to the crown prince, the state-run KUNA news agency said.

The sheikh had canceled a visit in early September 2019 with President Donald Trump at the White House after being hospitalized in the U.S., according to KUNA. This followed an unspecified health “setback” in August.

“The president wishes his friend, the Emir, a speedy recovery and looks forward to welcoming him back to Washington as soon as he is feeling better,” the White House said in a statement at the time. “The Emir is a well-respected leader and has been a tremendous partner of the United States in tackling challenges in the region.”

On Aug. 18, Kuwait acknowledged the emir had suffered a medical “setback.” That announcement came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited the emir and wrote on Twitter that he was “praying for emir’s speedy recovery,” without elaborating.

The sheikh was the 15th ruler in the Al Sabah dynasty, which dates to 1752, and was the fifth emir since Kuwait gained independence from Britain in 1961. Sheikh Sabah served as foreign minister from 1963 until 2003.

In August 1990, Saddam’s Iraq invaded its strategically located southern neighbor, deposed the emir — Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah — and annexed Kuwait. Sheikh Jaber fled to Saudi Arabia and set up a government in exile. The Sabahs returned to Kuwait in March 1991, two weeks after the end of the U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm. 

Sheikh Sabah worked to resolve regional issues through diplomacy, including the unresolved Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, and was host of donor conferences for Iraq, Syria and other war-torn countries.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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