Apple Declined Opportunities to Challenge Google's Search Dominance, Court Transcripts Reveal


Recently unsealed court transcripts shed light on Apple's decisions since 2017 to pass on various chances to disrupt Google's dominant position in the search engine landscape. Among these opportunities were potential acquisitions of Microsoft's Bing and making the privacy-centric DuckDuckGo the default for Safari's private browsing mode.

These confidential records, made public by the judge overseeing the US government's antitrust case against Google, highlight the hurdles faced by Google's search competitors in their attempts to displace the tech giant as Apple's default search provider on millions of iPhones and Macs. Google reportedly pays Apple a minimum of $10 billion annually for this privilege.

According to the closed-door testimonies of DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg and senior Apple executive John Giannandrea, Apple contemplated a deal with Bing seriously in 2018. This followed a discussion between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, which led to further talks between the two companies. However, no agreement materialized.

In parallel, Apple was in active discussions with DuckDuckGo regarding a proposal that could have made it the default search in Safari's private browsing mode, while retaining Google as the default in normal mode. Despite substantial efforts, this initiative was also abandoned by Apple.

Weinberg attributed the failure of these initiatives to Apple's existing contract with Google, which posed a significant obstacle during negotiations. Similar discussions with other browser and device manufacturers, including Mozilla, Opera, and Samsung, fell through due to the same Google contract.

Giannandrea, while acknowledging the potential benefits of dealing with Bing, argued that Bing's performance was generally inferior to Google's based on Apple's testing. He maintained that replacing Bing as the default would not serve Apple's customers optimally. He expressed similar reservations about partnering with DuckDuckGo.

While Apple possesses the resources to develop a genuine rival to Google, Giannandrea believed this was not the most effective strategy to differentiate their products. This sentiment, expressed in a 2018 email, still resonates with him today.

Apple has yet to comment on these revelations.