As of March 1, anyone in the process of setting up an Android device in the EU has the option to set one of four search engines as their handset’s default selection. For Android users based in the UK, these four options are Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and Info.com for the three months to June 30.
Bing and DuckDuckGo are both big names, but what is Info.com?
It’s a little-known search engine that launched in 2004, and is owned by a California-based company called System1. “We actively develop, invest in and acquire privacy services and products,” System1’s website declares.
System1 also owns WebCrawler and Dogpile, two search engines that actually pre-date Google’s.
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WebCrawler has been around since April 1994 and is credited with being the oldest search engine in the world, and Dogpile launched in November 1996. Though they’re still going, a quick glance at each of them should be enough to steer you back to the familiar surrounds of Google.
Previously, Info.com, WebCrawler and Dogpile had been owned by InfoSpace Holdings LLC, a California-based company that describes itself as “a leader in search and discovery” that “[helps] companies connect to customers through high intent advertising” and also dabbles in machine learning. InfoSpace was acquired by System1 in 2016.
“Info.com is the fast and easy search engine that has been helping millions of consumers month to find the information they need for over 10 years,” Ian Weingarten, the CEO of System1, told Trusted Reviews.
“To date, the majority of consumers access info.com through mobile and desktop web. Android Choice Screen provides an opportunity to make it easier for more people in Europe to access Info.com.
“We’re excited to offer users an alternative choice and are now ready to provide a compelling experience for consumers across Europe.”
There’s an Info.com app on Google Play, but at the time of publication it only has a few thousand downloads and six reviews.
But that could change rapidly, now that it’s being displayed so prominently on the Android Choice Screen for users based in the UK.
Between March 1 and June 30 − and possibly beyond − new Android users will be presented with a choice of four search providers during the setup process, as a consequence of an antitrust ruling from the European Union last year. As Google explains in its Help Center article:
“The effect of a user selecting a search provider from the choice screen will be to (i) set the search provider in a home screen search box to the selected provider, (ii) set the default search provider in Chrome (if installed) to the selected provider, and (iii) install the search app of the selected provider (if not already installed).”
To install the Info.com app, all you need to do is tap Info.com when it appears on-screen during the startup process:
So why is Info.com one of the four options? Controversially, Google decided to make search providers bid in order to be included on the list, something that led to eco-friendly search engine Ecosia, which donates a portion of its profits to reforestation projects, dropping out.
In Google’s own words:
“Google will use a fourth-price auction to select the other general search providers that appear in the choice screen … In each country auction, search providers will state the price that they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen in the given country. The three highest bidders will appear in the choice screen for that country. The provider that is selected by the user will pay the amount of the fourth-highest bid.”
In other words, System1 (as well as Microsoft and DuckDuckGo) was more willing to pay for new users than other search providers were.
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“We believe this auction is at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling,” Ecosia chief executive Christian Kroll told the BBC.
“Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open and federated internet. Why is Google able to pick and choose who gets default status on Android?”