Nearly three months after the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) dealt Google an ultimatum to create a new Google Chrome search widget to replace the default one, the search engine major has done exactly that. In line with requirements outlined by the FAS, there is now (as of June 27, 2017) a commit on the Chromium open source project to make the changes.
Here’s what the FAS is demanding:
“For the devices that are currently circulating on the Russian market, Google will develop an active “choice window” for the Chrome browser which at the time of the next update will provide the user with the opportunity to choose their default search engine.
Within a few months, Google will develop for new devices a new Chrome widget that will replace the standard Google search widget on the home screen. This will allow end users of the devices based on the Android OS with the GMS package to see the new “choice screen” at the first launch of the new Chrome widget. This choice screen enables users to choose Yandex search or Google search or any other search engine of those developers who will sign a commercial agreement on their inclusion to the choice screen.”
Essentially, the commit is intended to display a “search engine promo” on the default Google Chrome search widget, by which means users will be able to enable other search engines based on geographic location. That feature is controlled by LocaleManager on Google Chrome, and enables “custom logic for special locales.”
The feature is expected to be rolled out on future updates in Russia and China, but from the way things are heating up in the European Union, it looks like it could make its way to users there as well.
Just recently, the European Commission for Competition slapped Google with a record 2.42 billion euros for antitrust violations related to their comparison shopping platform. In Russia, the problem was related to Google’s apps being installed by default on Android devices. The FAS has already ruled this to be an anti-competitive practice, and similar legal steps are being taken in the EU as well.
If Google loses its legal battle in the EU, we could soon see the search engine promo dialog deployed in multiple countries across Europe. We could also see Google cede in other areas, such as pre-loading their own apps on OEM devices rather than offering a level playing field for equivalent apps from other developers and companies.
Though the company and its revenues continue to grow in a strong manner, Alphabet is plagued by multiple problems: legal battles related to Android, Google Search, Google Chrome and self-driving technology (Waymo vs Uber), advertiser boycotts because of extremist content on YouTube, the problem of fake news and several other issues.
The real problem is that this is setting a precedent for technology companies to bend to the will of governments. For several years, companies like Facebook and Google have been wary of China because of the terms under which they would operate.
Now that Google appears to be ceding ground to Russia and the FAS, governments will not hesitate to impose whatever restrictions they deem fit, even if it overwhelmingly favors local businesses and initiatives over foreign ones, especially American.
Google hasn’t officially announced the Google Chrome search widget with the promotional dialog, but the commit indicates that such a feature could be made available in the future. If that, in fact, happens, it does not bode well for several U.S. tech majors, including Google itself.