DuckDuckGo CEO says Google’s billions got in the way of a deal with Apple
The CEO of privacy-oriented search engine DuckDuckGo said its talks with Apple about a potential contract failed because the smartphone maker was reluctant to give up Google’s multibillion dollar paychecks, according to newly transcripts of a landmark antitrust trial of the Alphabet unit.
Gabriel Weinberg, who also founded the company, testified on Sept. 21 on the effect on DuckDuckGo of Google’s $10 billion in annual payments to smartphone makers and others to keep its search engine as the default on computers or mobile devices.
Some of his testimony took place outside of public view.
A redacted transcript unsealed late on Wednesday showed DuckDuckGo had struck a deal with Apple in 2014 to be shown as an option on Apple devices. Soon after, DuckDuckGo began pressing Apple to be made the default choice for users who wanted to work in privacy mode, which limited data collected on the user.
App makers seek to be the default in their area, whether it be search or maps or anything else, because many users are unable or reluctant to change defaults.
Weinberg said Apple seemed “really interested” in 2016, and executives of the two companies had meetings in 2017 and 2018 to discuss the shift to DuckDuckGo as the default in privacy mode. DuckDuckGo has about 2.5% of the search market, he testified.
In those meetings, Weinberg said, Apple executives would bring up the concern that its distribution agreements with Google may bar the change. The potential deal died in 2019, Weinberg argued because of the Google payments.
Apple’s John Giannandrea, in charge of machine learning and AI strategy whose testimony behind closed doors was also unsealed late Wednesday, had testified in September that Apple had compared Bing and Google with an eye toward playing the two against each other.
Giannandrea testified about Apple’s toying with the idea of buying Bing or using it as a default search engine instead of Google, an idea that Giannandrea opposed because of Bing’s lower quality search results.
The Justice Department has said that Google, which has some 90% of the search market, pays some $10 billion annually to Apple, other smartphone makers and others to be the default search. That clout in search has made Google a heavy hitter in the lucrative advertising market, boosting its profits.