It should be easy to switch search engines: 10 principles for fair choice screens

You should be allowed to opt for whichever search engine you prefer. That’s why we’ve been campaigning for fairness in the search engine market for many years now.

While we’re beginning to see some positive steps being taken in the EU and around the world by regulators, it remains unnecessarily difficult to switch away from gatekeeper default settings. In many cases, your decision to move to a greener or more privacy-friendly search engine is simply not honored.

As EU legislators vote to adopt the Digital Markets Act this week, we’re publishing a joint statement from our CEO Christian alongside DuckDuckGo and Qwant, putting forward ten principles for regulators to make it easier for you to pick your favorite search engine.

Open Letter from Ecosia, DuckDuckGo and Qwant

Choice screens and effective switching mechanisms are crucial tools that empower users and enable competition in the search engine and browser markets. The European Union (EU) has taken an important first step by adopting the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which includes obligations to implement such tools. However, the effectiveness of the EU’s mandates and related regulatory efforts across the globe will depend on how gatekeepers implement changes to comply with these new rules.

Without strict adherence to both clear rules and principles for fair choice screens and effective switching mechanisms, gatekeeping firms could choose to circumvent their legal obligations. We suggest regulators make clear their enforcement should adhere to the following ten essential principles for fair choice screens and effective switching mechanisms:

  1. Free of charge: Any choice screen or other switching mechanism must be free of charge for participants.
  2. Available as a prominent setting: Choice screens should be available any time users wish to switch, such as being available as a top-level setting, and not just shown once at device onboarding.
  3. Periodically presented to users: Choice screens should be shown periodically to users, for instance on major OS updates. Initial device onboarding is not the only time when users are in the mindset to change core services, and major software updates can reset or affect gatekeeper-controlled search and browser default settings.
  4. Effective across gatekeeper-controlled access points: A choice decision from the user should apply to all access points controlled by the gatekeeping company. For example, for a search engine choice screen on a smartphone, the user’s decision should apply to all pre-set search entry points at once, such as the search widget on the home screen, auxiliary search widgets, default browser, default assistant, etc.
  5. No technical preference given to an app: The gatekeeper shouldn’t grant itself or any search engine or browsing app a “system” status making them impossible to uninstall. When the user deletes the default search or browsing app, this should trigger the relevant choice screen to appear.
  6. Enable all-at-once defaults switching from apps and websites of other providers: Users should be able to switch all gatekeeper-controlled access points in one click via a prompt from a competing app or website. If an app provides both services (that is, a browser and a search engine), the user should be able to switch all the defaults for both.
  7. Transparent user testing to achieve user-centric design: In order to ensure there are no dark patterns, third-parties like competitors and trusted consumer organizations should be given the opportunity to user test proposed designs and provide feedback. As part of a collaborative, iterative process, their feedback should be duly taken into account by the gatekeeper and, ultimately, the regulator. Choice screen and switching mechanism design should facilitate clear choice and unfair attempts to reverse consumer choices should be banned.
  8. Functional eligibility criteria: An app’s functional ability should be the only eligibility criteria for being a participant in a choice screen process. For instance, many search engine apps are also full web-browsers and operating a search engine should not preclude them from being shown on browser choice screens.
  9. User-expected choices: The list of options on choice screens should reflect the diversity of the market and be determined objectively by the best-available and commonly agreed market share data. The most popular choices should be displayed randomly up top, which will ensure all main user-expected choices are initially visible, then followed by less popular choices arranged randomly.
  10. Transparent dashboards for participants: Data on the effectiveness of choice screens should be made available on a daily basis to participants via a self-serve dashboard where companies can see how many impressions and selections occurred, and more.

Gatekeeping firms should globally roll out fair choice screens and effective switching mechanisms now, using these principles. We are ready to work collaboratively towards this end, honoring the users‘ desire to choose the services they want to use, and not having those choices decided for them by default.

Gabriel Weinberg, CEO, DuckDuckGo
Christian Kroll, CEO, Ecosia
Corinne Lejbowicz, President, Qwant

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