Google is continuing to pay Apple to remain the default search engine in iOS, a deal that benefits Apple to the tune billions of dollars.
Google is the dominant search engine by far, but it’s hard to know whether that is the result of true technological superiority or through the sheer power of its market dominance. A key element to that dominance is paying smartphone makers to make Google the default search engine in the browsers they ship with their devices.
Such an arrangement is extremely profitable for smartphone makers, bringing in a steady stream of income for essentially no work. At the same time, however, it poses a signifiant privacy and moral dilemma for Apple. The Cupertino company has built a reputation around protecting user privacy, often more so than its rivals, including Google. Because the iPhone maker is primarily in the business of selling hardware, it doesn’t rely on monetizing user data the way Google does.
Despite that stance, however, Apple is projected to reap $15 billion in 2021 for keeping Google the default search engine in iOS Safari, and as much as $20 billion 2022, according to Bernstein analysts, via long-time Apple reporter Philip Elmer-DeWitt.
While Apple no doubt sees it as a way to give customers what it thinks they want, in terms of the search engine they’re probably most familiar with, it’s still a strange compromise for a company that puts so much value in protecting privacy. It would be far better, and more in line with the company’s overall stance, to refuse Google’s money and offer users a choice when they first set up their iPhones.
The more time passes, the harder it will be to defend this deal.