Australia picks third fight with Big Tech, this time over browser and search on mobile devices

Regulator keen to know how Android Choice works in the EU, what makes the Google/Apple relationship tick, and if Salesforce buying Slack is a problem


Australia is going after Big Tech again, this time with research on “the impact of default settings and pre-installation of search services and web browsers on consumer choice and competition.”

The nation’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) yesterday called for submissions that will help it to compile a “Report on market dynamics and consumer choice screens in search services and web browsers,” due in September 2021.

An Issues Paper [PDF] spells out five areas the ACCC wants to probe, namely:

  1. The impact of pre-installation and default settings on consumer choice and competition, particularly in relation to online search and browsers.
  2. Supplier behaviour and trends in search services, browsers and operating systems, and device ecosystems, that may impact the supply of search and browsers to Australian consumers.
  3. The extent to which existing consumer harm can arise from the design of defaults and other arrangements.
  4. The effectiveness of Google’s Android choice screen roll out in Europe and whether it is fit for purpose within Australia.
  5. Whether there are any proposals, other than choice screens, that may facilitate competition and improve consumer choice in the supply of general search services and browsers in Australia.

The mention of Europe’s Android choice screen suggests Australia quite fancies a similar arrangement.

Someone facing a dilemma

Google to offer users a choice of default search engine on Android in the EU – but it's pay to play

PRECEDENT AHOY

The Commission’s announcement of the probe also mentions the US Department of Justice’s antitrust case against Google and The Chocolate Factory’s alleged payments that secure its search services as the default on Apple devices.

The new probe is an extension of Australia’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, an effort that has already seen the nation successfully create a pay-for-news scheme under which Google and (probably) Facebook will fund local publishers. The Inquiry has also spawned a probe into whether Apple and Google’s app stores hurt competition. The report on that matter will be released on March 31st.

The Register hopes the authors of that report haven’t finished just yet, because earlier this week Epic Games’ Australian tentacle sued Google over Play Store terms and conditions (after doing the same to Apple in November 2020).

In a separate probe also announced yesterday, the ACCC has cast its eye over Salesforce's planned acquisition of Slack.

The regulator has asked for opinions on the following matters:

  • Availability of alternatives to Salesforce’s CRM solution, and how the alternative CRM supplier differs based on factors such as price, quality and features;
  • Availability of alternatives to Slack’s enterprise collaboration, and how the alternative platform differs based on factors such as price, quality and features;
  • The ability of Salesforce’s CRM customers and Slack’s customers to switch to alternatives (as applicable);
  • If you are a Salesforce user, the importance of being able to integrate your application with various enterprise software collaboration platforms;
  • If you are a Slack user, the importance of being able to integrate your application with various CRM solutions;
  • Any other competition concerns relevant to the ACCC’s consideration of the proposed acquisition.

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