Unsealed court documents from the Department of Justice legal battle with Google revealed that Apple has conducted exploratory discussions with Microsoft and DuckDuckGo about potentially replacing Google as the default search engine across Apple's devices. The details were unveiled in the testimonies extracted from the Department's ongoing antitrust case against Google. This lawsuit claims that the tech giant is exercising an abusive monopoly over the search market.
A Potential Microsoft Deal: Bing's Involvement
According to reports in The Washington Post and Bloomberg, Apple talked to Microsoft about a potential acquisition or joint venture with Bing as far back as 2018 and later in 2020. During these talks, Apple evaluated Bing's performance by comparing the quality of its search results with Google's. Broadly, Bing performed inferiorly except during desktop searches in the English language.
Between 2013 to 2017, Bing was implemented as the default search engine providing answers to queries made through Siri and Spotlight. An internal Apple email suggests that Bing's consideration was a negotiation strategy to extract more profit from Google. Apple vice president Adrian Perica emphasized that the focus was to “create incremental negotiating leverage to keep the take rate from Google, and further our optionality to replace Google down the line.” Meanwhile, Microsoft was aware that its platform was being used for leverage. Mikhail Parakhin, Microsoft's head of advertising and web services, pointed out that Apple profited more from Bing than Microsoft itself did.
DuckDuckGo's Consideration: The Privacy Angle Sees Light
Court documents reveal that Apple conducted about 20 meetings and calls with DuckDuckGo, discussing the possibility of making DuckDuckGo the default search engine for the Safari private browsing mode. DuckDuckGo is known for its stringent privacy ethics, offering a more private alternative to major search engines.
Notwithstanding, the likelihood of Apple adopting DuckDuckGo seems implausible as the latter relies on Bing for acquiring search information, potentially compromising its strong privacy stance. Reflecting on this, John Giannandrea, Apple senior vice president, stated that more diligence would be required with DuckDuckGo to ascertain possible user data sharing with Microsoft.
In spite of these exploratory discussions, Apple continues to maintain its multi-billion dollar search deal with Google. The arrangement sees Google paying large amounts annually to Apple to maintain its status as the default search engine across Apple's devices. Apple maintains that presently, no other viable alternative for Google exists.