Google Doesn’t Require Google Search On Android, Despite What FairSearch & Microsoft Want You To Believe

Fairsearch, a group backed by Microsoft and other Google competitors to lobby that Google isn’t “fair” to them with its search results, has been having a event today to push its view of all that’s wrong with Google. That includes building a myth that Google requires that all Android devices to use Google search. Google doesn’t do that. It never has. But that’s a good story the group still wants to tell.

The FairSearch Event

Today’s mythbuilding came out of a panel called “Tech Executives: Exploring Barriers to Innovation in Mobile and Online Services,” part of the FairSearch “Searching for Innovation and Competition Online” event that was held at the Newseum in Washington DC today.

Susan Athey, a professor of economics with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business was on the panel, making it sound like there was an unbiased academic meant to balance things out against having Skyhook Wireless and TradeComet, both with grievances against Google, also on the panel.

The Microsoft Speaker & The Incorrect Android Search Claim

But Athey isn’t just a professor. She’s also a consultant to Microsoft and has the role of Microsoft’s chief economist. The Microsoft connections weren’t listed next to her name on the agenda, but at least they were made clear in her introduction to those at the event.

She has an incredibly impressive sounding resume. That, along with her role with Microsoft, make what she says at 33 minutes into the panel discussion below so wrong:

“Microsoft tried to make deals to become the default search engine on mobile devices. On Android, that was rendered impossible. They were told, Android makers, and carriers, were told, that you cannot use another default besides Google,” Athey said.

Debunking Time

That’s not true. Not only is it not true, it’s impossible. It’s impossible because Android code is released to anyone to do anything that they want with. But if just being impossible isn’t enough proof, how about proof of Android devices that have dropped Google as the default search engine?

There was AT&T’s first Android phone, the Motorola Backflip out in 2010. Yahoo was used as the default search provider on that, not Google.

There was the Samsung Galaxy S with Verizon, also known as the Galaxy Fascinate. That phone, which I personally tested for several weeks in 2011, used Bing as the default search. You know, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, the one Microsoft supposedly couldn’t cut deals with device makers or carriers to be the default on Android devices.

That happend because of a deal between Microsoft and probably Verizon (rather than Samsung; Microsoft and Verizon have done default search deals for mobile before). Nor was there any way to change the default away from Bing, if you were so inclined.

Those two strikes alone make you question how much you can trust anything Athey says about Google and mobile search competition, and in turn, the advice she’s apparently giving Microsoft. But maybe she forgot these phones, when she made this statement. If so, how did she miss the new last week about the new Kindle Fires using Bing as the default?

Amazon’s Kindle Fire is an Android device, at least in using Android’s core operating system. Amazon has simply stripped out things it doesn’t want, such as integration with Google Play (instead, it uses its own App Store) and changing the search to use Bing, almost certainly because of a deal with Amazon and Bing (Microsoft confirms Bing is the default but gives no details how that happened).

Repeat False Fact, Make It True

If Microsoft’s consultant putting out false facts isn’t bad enough, FairSearch makes it worse by reporting the error as being true and not picking up the correction that Athey later makes after a Google spokesperson in the audience calls her out on it. In fact, FairSearch even turns things to make it seem like Google was confirming what Athey said.

Here’s FairSearch’s coverage:

Athey added that deals with Apple to make Google the exclusive default search provider, and with Android phone manufacturers requiring Google to be the default search engine to gain access to offering the Android market to users extends the company’s dominance in search.

As for the Google response, FairSearch reported this:

Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, would not acknowledge during the question-and-answer session that the search giant requires Android devices to use Google as the default search engine in order to be allowed to offer Android Market to consumers.

Athey asked Kovacevich: “So are you able to use the Android app store if you have Bing as the default. If Verizon was to make Bing the default, would they have access to all of Android?”

To which Kovacevich said: “That I don’t know.”

That gives you the impression that Kovacevich was somehow on the panel himself and being uncertain about whether what Athey said was true or not. He was pretty clear. Athey was wrong. But the FairSearch coverage omitted that.

The Google Denial FairSearch Denied

In the video above, at 40 minutes in, Kovacevich says this:

I just want to clarify something that you said, that we require Android manufacturers to install Google as the default search. That is just not true.

That straight-up denial didn’t make it into FairSearch’s recap. Nor did Kovacevich explaining the situation with the Kindle Fire, or that there are other devices where Google isn’t the default. Nor Kovacevich saying again, “We never require that.”

In response, Athey backpedals. She shifts from having made a clear-cut declaration that Google absolutely banned carriers or manufacturers from having Android devices without Google search to asking Kovacevich if he knows if there are incentives to push Google search.

She’s the consultant who just attacked Google. Shouldn’t she know this? Her main question was if you could use the Android app store (officially now called Google Play), if Verizon made Bing the default.

The answer, by the way, should be yes. Yes, because that’s exactly how the Samsung phone I mentioned earlier works. The Kindle Fire doesn’t work that way, because Amazon wants to use its own app store. But it probably could.

Kovacevich response to her about the Google Play question was “I don’t know,” and that’s not surprising, because Google Play might not be considered these days part of the Android source code. I don’t know myself (it’s a weird situation that doesn’t seem to come up much). He reiterated again, however, that the statement he was correcting was about the search default.

Microsoft’s Own Correction Not Corrected

Despite clearly not knowing the situation herself with Google Play, Athey nonetheless goes on to say “So very very strong incentives that might make it economicially unviable to use Bing would be a correction.”

Oh, a correction? Not that FairSearch mentioned that she corrected her earlier misstatement. Nor is her correction even necessarily true. After all, Bing is on the new Kindle Fire. Amazon and Microsoft are clearly finding some viability to do a deal there.

Microsoft has also cut plenty of deals to be the default on search over the years in various places. Google doesn’t even always win (as with the last Dell deal).

Meanwhile, Confusion With Asus

As a related note, there was news today that Google threaten to pull Acer’s “Android license” if Acer partnered to make a smartphone using the Aliyun OS from Alibaba. Well, that’s how one report went. That came off an Alibaba blog post, now pulled but which said according to this copy:

A Sept. 13 news conference announcing the China launch of a high-end Acer smartphone running a cloud operating system made by Alibaba Group was abruptly canceled after Google, owner of the Android OS, threatened to cancel Acer’s license to use Android for its other phones if the launch went ahead.

Google doesn’t own Android nor is there any “Android” license that Google can enforce, given that Android is open to anyone to use.

Google could, however, choose not to work with partners on Google-branded devices, which might be the case with the Acer situation. That’s the impression I get of what might be happening from reading this Reuters report (we’re checking with Google for more. Also, I briefly had up that this involved Asus rather than Acer, sorry!).

Google can be influential in helping to certify products as being Android-compatible (an issue with Skyhook, and something that should raise concerns about Google) and certainly about pushing its money or brand around to get things favorable to the company. That’s true of many big companies. It can certainly be attacked on these fronts, too.

FairSearch Seems Little About Being Fair

Indeed, as a big company, there’s plenty that Google does that leaves it vulnerable to criticisms, such as its growth in offering direct content. There’s really no need to just be making stuff up, as I witnessed happening on the panel today.

Moreover, I think I’d have a lot more respect for the complaints Google competitors have against the company if they weren’t part of the FairSearch facade. The organization seems little to do with actually seeking fairness in a discussion about search fairness.

Personally, I’d either like to see Microsoft drop out of the group (and fight Google, when it feels necessary, in its own name) or for Google itself to apply for membership in FairSearch. I wonder if it would be accepted.

Postscript (Sept. 14): I am checking further on the entire Google Play situation. It wasn’t something that Athey initially used in any type of qualification in her statement. But I’m as curious as anyone. The terms for the Android source code say that devices that aren’t deemed Android-compatible (something that Google itself decides) aren’t granted access to Google Play:

Google Play is a service operated by Google. Achieving compatibility is a prerequisite for obtaining access to the Google Play software and branding. Device manufacturers should contact Google to obtain access to Google Play.

That says nothing about denying it simply because you change search away from Google. Potentially, Google could deem that a device that doesn’t use Google search as the default isn’t Android-compatible. But I’ve never, ever, heard of that happening.

Related, Google own apps for YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail and others not specifically named in the terms are licensed separately. From the terms:

The Google apps for Android, such as YouTube, Google Maps and Navigation, Gmail, and so on are Google properties that are not part of Android, and are licensed separately.

This means someone could build an Android-compatible device but still not be allowed to use Google’s own apps in it. This, still, isn’t something Athey qualified her initial statement with, in any way. Nor is it necessarily a barrier. Certainly two of the phones I described above had both Google apps but search from others.

Postscript 2 (Sept. 14): I’m still waiting answers from Google and Microsoft. In particular, I asked Microsoft if there were any Android phones out there where they had a deal to use Bing. While I was waiting, I headed over to the Verizon site, to see if I could figure it out for myself.

Currently, none of the major makers like Samsung or Motorola seem to use Bing as the default. As covered, even Microsoft no longer seems to suggest that this is because Google overtly bans it, as was claimed initially on this panel. Whether it’s because the only way to get use of Google Play isn’t clear, either way.

However, Verizon does currently sell the Casio G’zOne Commando, and the product page for that says it uses Bing as the default search engine. The phone notably doesn’t use Android logo or name. However, it is Android and also does have support for Google Play.

Postscript 3: On the Acer situation, see our follow-up story, Google: Acer Is OHA Member, So Can’t Work On “Non-Compatible Android” Like Aliyun.

Postscript 4: One further fresh article, What Is The One True Android & How “Open” Is It?, which takes a bigger picture look in the wake of the Acer situation. Nothing with Acer, however, changes the fact that there is no requirement for Android devices, “compatible” or not.

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About The Author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.