Google and the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) reached a voluntary settlement on April 17 after a two-year legal process. This now means that Russia’s ~55-million Android users will soon be able to choose which search engine they want to use from their devices.
This choice will come in the form of a “choice screen.” Google is required to develop a new Chrome widget for all existing Android devices as well as future devices sold in Russia that will replace the standard home screen Google search widget. When a user selects the new widget, they will be presented a choice.
In September 2015, the FAS found that Google’s practices on Android devices were anti-competitive and exploitative of their market position. Android smartphones used Google as the default search engine and made it challenging for other search providers to feature in the Google Play store.
The following quote is an excerpt from a blog post released by Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh following the FAS statement:
Google also limited the placement of competing applications on Android devices. These factors created limits for how smartphone manufacturers could access the essential Android App Store – Google Play. These requirements made it challenging for search providers and other competing applications providers to pre-install their services on Android phones. Android was limiting options for users, smartphone manufacturers, and competitors – and all together restricting innovation.
Implications for Google in Russia
It’s been a long-standing fact that Yandex has held the largest market share in Russian search since 1997. Using average daily search data from liveinternet.ru, Yandex currently holds ~54 percent of the search market, followed by Google with ~40 percent.
|Average Daily Searches (In Russia)|
|Search Engine||April 2017||March 2017|
Google has seen considerable gains in Russia over the past couple of years. This has been driven by the shifting behavior of Russian internet users and increased smartphone penetration, which has grown from 66.9 million devices in 2015 to an estimated 80.2 million this year.
The latest data from July 2016 shows that Android holds 74.17 percent of the smartphone market share, miles ahead of iOs (20.37 percent) and Windows Phone (2.49 percent). However, the FAS ruling could see Google’s ability to control the smartphone search market diminish with users now being able to choose between Google, Yandex, Bing, and other search providers.
Being Mobile Friendly in Russia
Despite Android’s domination of the smartphone market in Russia (and the inferred dominance of Google on those devices), Yandex has made efforts to reward webmasters by making their websites mobile friendly with the Vladivostok algorithm (launched in 2016), along with a mobile-friendly testing tool.
Given Yandex’s popularity of search within Russia despite the lack of presence on smartphones and mobile search, it can be expected that this FAS ruling will see those loyal to Yandex opt to make the Russian search engine their default on their smartphones.
Yandex’s efforts with the Vladivostok algorithm will also mean that users won’t suffer in terms of search result quality.
Wider Implications in Europe
This decision in Russia may set a precedent across Europe. In April 2016, the Antitrust Chief of the European Commission outlined in a Statement of Objections that Google has breached EU competition law by:
- Requiring that manufacturers of devices using the Android operating system pre-install Google Search and Google Chrome, setting both as default, as a condition for licensing other Google proprietary applications.
- Requiring that manufacturers don’t sell smartphones and devices utilizing “other” operating systems, based on Android’s open source code.
The same Statement of Objections also claimed that Google provided financial incentives to manufacturers and carrier networks to exclusively pre-install Google Search.
The announcement even went as far to say that the carrots offered by Google to use a specific version of Android with certain criteria were so large, they were effectively sticks.
The European Commission could implement a similar ruling across the continent, which would have serious implications across the mobile search market given the resurgence in sales that Android devices have seen in comparison to Apple and iOS.
Google & Privacy Concerns
For several years now Google has been subject to a number of privacy concerns and allegations, one of the most recent being concerns surrounding messenger app Allo.
Similarly, Apple has also come under heavy criticism for their user privacy practices, which has been cited as a contributing factor to the declining Apple market share. As the market continues to shift and users are becoming more aware of their own data and privacy online, this poses new challenges for search marketers.
As these concerns continue to gain coverage in mainstream media, the trend of users moving away from Google looks set to continue. In the United Kingdom, Bing is reporting that they now account for approximately 25 percent of the search market, with other conservative estimates placing them nearer the 20 percent mark.
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