Inside Google’s plan to stop Apple from getting serious about search

Inside Google's plan to stop Apple from getting serious about search

For years, Google watched with increasing concern as Apple improved its search technology, not knowing whether its long-term partner and sometimes competitor would eventually create its own search engine.

Those fears were reinforced in 2021, when Google forced Apple to keep Google’s search engine the default selection on iPhones, according to two people with knowledge of the partnership who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Paid approximately $18 billion. That same year, Apple’s iPhone search tool, Spotlight, began showing users better web results, like they could find on Google.

Google quietly plans to curtail Apple’s search ambitions. According to internal Google documents reviewed by The New York Times, the company tried to reduce the spotlight by creating its own version for iPhones and getting more iPhone users to use Google’s Chrome web browser instead of Apple’s Safari browser. Looked for ways. At the same time, Google studied how to loosen Apple’s control over the iPhone by taking advantage of a new European law aimed at helping smaller companies compete with Big Tech.

Google’s anti-Apple plan emphasized the importance its executives placed on maintaining dominance in the search business. It also provides insight into the company’s complicated relationship with Apple, which is a competitor in consumer gadgets and software and has been a key partner in Google’s mobile advertising business for more than a decade.

The relationship has come under scrutiny in a landmark antitrust lawsuit brought against Google by the Justice Department and dozens of states. Government lawyers have argued that Google rigged the market in its favor with default agreements it signed with companies including Apple, Samsung and Mozilla. These treaties funnel traffic to Google’s search engine when users search for information in the browser’s top bar.

Google is expected to begin a three-week defense presentation Thursday in the months-long trial. Until now, the company has downplayed the role of its default agreements with phone makers and browser companies in its success. It argues that its search engine is popular due to its quality and innovation, and users can easily choose another default in their device settings.

But documents seen by the Times revealed that Google understood the power of default in connecting users to a product as it tried to overturn the selection of Safari as the default Web browser for Apple’s iPhone.

“Competition in the technology industry is fierce, and we compete with Apple on many fronts,” said Google spokesman Peter Schottenfels. “There are more ways to find information today than ever before, which is why our engineers make thousands of improvements to search every year to ensure we can deliver the most useful results.”

While Google dictates default settings because they matter, he said, users can and do change their defaults. Apple declined to comment.

Last fall, Google executives discussed how to reduce the company’s reliance on Apple’s Safari browser and how to best use a new law in Europe to weaken the iPhone maker, as Documents show. While Google considered a number of options, including how much data it should have access to on the iPhone, it’s not clear what executives decided.

At the time, the EU was preparing the Digital Markets Act, designed to help smaller companies break Big Tech’s control over the industry. Google, already one of the largest Internet businesses in the world, saw an opening.

Under the act, the EU is forcing big tech companies designated as “gatekeepers” to open their platforms to competitors by March, giving users a choice of which services to use, and their own platforms. Will stop favoring services.

The law is expected to force Apple to allow customers in the EU to download rival app stores. Users setting up a new Apple device in Europe may also be presented with the option to choose a default browser other than Safari.

Google, which the law would force to allow more competition in search, explored ways to lobby EU regulators to break up Apple’s tightly controlled software ecosystem, so Google users could be stripped of Safari and Spotlight. As shown in the documents. Executives debated how aggressive the company should be in advocating for access to Apple’s operating systems.

According to documents reviewed by The Times, Google executives estimated that the number of European iPhone users choosing Chrome could triple if users had to choose a choice. This would mean the company could keep more of the search advertising revenue and pay Apple less of it.

“Regulations designed to help smaller companies enter a market are often used by incumbents to gain an advantage over their competitors,” said Gus Hurwitz, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School who focuses on technology and competition. “Can also be done for.” Interview.

Google and Apple have had a search engine partnership for Safari since 2002, half a decade before the introduction of the iPhone. This relationship became more complicated when Google released the Android mobile operating system in 2008, a direct competitor to the iPhone.

Google was concerned about Apple’s spotlight from the early days of the feature. In 2014, an internal presentation discussed the impact Apple’s new operating system, iOS 8, would have on Google’s revenues. The second page of the slide deck was titled “Bottom Line: It’s Bad,” according to one presentation Introduced as evidence in antitrust case.

“We hope these suggestions will help Google address queries in the verticals where Spotlight is triggered,” the company wrote.

Apple brought on John Giannandrea, a powerful Google search executive, in 2018 and expanded its search staff teams while building a more capable Spotlight system. A person with knowledge of the discussions said 2021 improvements to the tool as part of iOS 15 raised concerns at Google over Apple’s intentions in the search market.

The documents show that in response, Google began an effort to create its own version of Spotlight that was meant to work on iPhones. It provides users with quick facts and information from files, messages and apps on the device.

In recent years, Apple hasn’t used Spotlight to get so-called commercial queries from Google – which serve ads in their results – so the tool hasn’t hurt Google’s search business.

Still, Google executives considered ways to persuade the EU to designate Spotlight as a search engine last year, according to the documents. Spotlight included at least five different search facilities offering web images; Answers and “enriched” results that provide additional information such as photos; and Universal Search, which can scan devices, apps, and the web. The EU has not yet decided whether to open Spotlight to more competition under the law.

Google is resorting to laws intended to help smaller companies, which has frustrated some legal experts.

Mr. Hurwitz said, “I want companies to compete on the merits of getting consumers to use their products by offering high quality products.” “Not by paying lawyers to go to the EU and enforce regulations to get access to your competitors’ platforms.”

adam satariano Contributed reporting from London.

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