Opinion

COVID-19 is tearing apart Google’s competitors - here's what we must do to combat this

Last week, our good friends at the alternative search engine Cliqz announced they would have to close it down. Based in Munich, Cliqz is one of the last remaining European online search engines, with 1.2 million users and its own completely independent algorithm.

We have worked with Cliqz for years, we know many of the team personally and have closely followed their excellent work and success story as an alternative search engine, intent on developing its own search algorithm, since its beginnings in 2008. Aside from being deeply saddened for the employees affected, the news is a huge blow to us, and to Europe’s alternative search engine market.

While Cliqz was little-known outside of its home market in Germany, it had a hugely important role to play, fighting the monopoly of US tech giants in the European market and helping to shore up a level playing field. The loss of this competitor will lead to a less fair internet for everyone.

Cliqz and its parent company Hubert Burda Media stated that their reasons for closing down were due to continued anti-competitive behaviour of Google “who dominates and seals off the market in every respect” and their loss of hope that European governments will do what is necessary to establish fair practices in this sector. They would likely have also been facing plummeting advertising revenues as a result of COVID-19, a situation which has only served to exacerbate Google’s stronghold in the market.

The coronavirus makes all smaller players in the sector vulnerable and Ecosia is also hurting right now. In some of our European markets our revenues are down to one quarter of what they were before the pandemic struck. While small players like Cliqz have not survived the current crisis, Google will, having built up a buffer of billions due to its absolute monopoly - which must be regulated at a political level.

The European Commission fined Google for anti-competitive behaviour in 2018, particularly for its practice of unfair default settings. However, the Commission has failed to follow through and the situation has continued to worsen. Google continues to stifle competition in Europe, for example by introducing a pay-to-play auction for its Android choice screen. These practices make it increasingly difficult for smaller companies to survive and thrive.

As the news of Cliqz’ demise has broken, we are more determined than ever to continue the fight for fairness for the gatekeepers to the internet: search engines, browsers and operating systems. We will continue to challenge Google and to demand regulation in the sector to ensure competition and access to a fair internet is healthy in Europe and around the world.

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