Written by Nick Heer.

Google Pays ‘Enormous’ Sums to Maintain Its Search Engine Dominance

Leah Nylen, Bloomberg:

DOJ attorney Kenneth Dintzer didn’t disclose how much Google spends to be the default search engine on most browsers and all US mobile phones, but described the payments as “enormous numbers.” 

“Google invests billions in defaults, knowing people won’t change them,” Dintzer told Judge Amit Mehta during a hearing in Washington that marked the first major face-off in the case and drew top DOJ antitrust officials and Nebraska’s attorney general among the spectators. “They are buying default exclusivity because defaults matter a lot.”

Google is rumoured to pay Apple $15 billion per year to be the default search engine across its devices, including in Siri, representing over thirty percent of the profit Apple books as “Services”. I am not one to doubt Google’s research — it must get a decent return to keep paying that sum — but, anecdotally, even though I switched my browsers to use DuckDuckGo, I still find myself using Google for at least a third of my web searches. No matter how the quality of Google’s results seems to have declined, I find its results are often more relevant, closer to the source, and more complete than those from DuckDuckGo.

Nylen on Twitter:

The other one: you may recall how in 2012 Apple (infamously) changed the default on its map from Google Maps to Apple Maps. There was resulting outrage, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized etc. but Apple never changed it back.

DOJ said that the majority of iPhone users may have grumbled but didn’t switch their map default back to Google.

Fast forward to 2016, Google did an internal analysis: if Apple were to switch away from Google as the default search engine on iPhone, how much revenue would that cost Google? According to DOJ, a significant amount (presented to the judge but redacted for the rest of us)

I am just guessing here, but one reason users may not have switched their iPhone’s default maps app to Google is because they cannot — as in, it is not possible to force all location and wayfinding behaviours to use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps. If given the option, I imagine many users would prefer Google Maps. Apple began allowing users to change their default web browser and email app with iOS 14 in 2020; two years later, Apple has not extended that capability to new categories of apps.

Again, I am sure Google has done the research and found its search engine would find declining use from the apparently valuable iPhone demographic. Still, I have to imagine the internet would be littered with tutorials for changing Safari’s search engine back to Google if Apple severed its agreement and made Yahoo or Bing the default. This case is interesting because Google really does seem to maintain dominance through exclusivity agreements like these, but it is also still the best general knowledge search engine for most people.