back to article Google experiments with user-choice-defying Android search box

Google has been spotted testing a web technology that a former staffer fears will further undermine the already often ignored choices people make about their browsers. Alex Russell, who joined Microsoft in June as partner program manager on Edge after more than 12 years as a senior engineer at Google, noted on Twitter the …

  1. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Google choice?

    For a long time now Google's search has pretty blatantly ignored search terms and "user choice" to ensure that the results take users where Google wants them to go- which generally means to websites that make money for Google.

  2. Ian 55

    CC the EU and US authorities*

    "The presumably reformed monopolist has changed Windows 11 to make it more difficult to switch browsers. It has made Edge the Windows 11 default upon installation and will use Edge unless the user selects an alternate browser to handle specific file types and links. Windows users do have a choice of a different browser, but making that choice requires more effort than it once did."

    Oh FFS.

    * 'cos the UK ones won't care.

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Oh FFS.

      Oh, so MS are the problem, thanks for highlghting that. I thought this article was about Google being evil but apparently, the real baddies, as usual, MS.

      1. RyokuMas Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Oh FFS.

        Some people just can't let go of a 20+ year old grudge...

  3. Santa from Exeter

    Question

    The article states "the contractually mandated search widget adjacent to Android home screens".

    What's one of those then? I certainly don't have anything like that near my home screen on my Oppo phone.

    1. Boothy Silver badge

      Re: Question

      Nope here too, on a OnePlus.

      I can see Chrome and Google search bars listed under widgets, but neither are in use, and even if they were, can simply be removed.

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: Question

        Removed but uninstalled ?

        1. Tony W

          Re: Question

          On the Android One "standard" version of Android, the search bar can be disabled, but you can't stop it taking up space on every page of the home screen although it's inactive. Just to remind you who's boss.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Question

            Try installing nova-launcher from the play store. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.teslacoilsw.launcher

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Question

            This is why alternative GUIs exist

            Installed 'evie' purely on the basis of it not having the google search bar concreted in place in the middle of the home page.

    2. Splurg The Barbarian

      Re: Question

      Isn't that just the Google app. The widget can be removed but the Google app can not be uninstalled. You can disable it, but if you want to use a smartwatch Android Wear forces you to enable it to set the wear devices up although it can be disabled again afterwards. Same with that bloody assistant.

      The Hotel California of eco systems, you can checkout but you can never leave.

      1. Alan Watson

        Re: Question

        But an advantage of disabling the Google app is that you will never be prompted to enable Assistant again (doing which also changes all of your Google account settings to let Google log absolutely everything, changes which are of course not undone if you turn Assistant off again).

        I didn't know that Google require this thing for a smartwatch to work, but it is very in character of them to do that. Misleading pop-ups to tell you that you need to enable things in order to make something work that aren't needed at all is another of their favourites.

  4. ecarlseen

    Oh ffs El Reg, shill for Google much?

    The one itsy bitsy witsy little difference being that Apple’s implementation *forces* all apps to respect the user’s browser preferences, which is a huge plus for user privacy. And which is the complete and total opposite of what Google is doing.

    Of course, in The Register this is not worth mentioning. The comparison is made without context. The article just spews the Google propaganda response, almost making you wonder if the author’s real intent is to say “Yes, Google is doing something terrible, but so is everyone else” when nothing could be further from the truth. Even the mention of Microsoft’s annoying behavior with Edge doesn’t really compare in any meaningful way.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Oh ffs El Reg, shill for Google much?

      Did you read the same article I did?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh ffs El Reg, shill for Google much?

      Me thinks you be the shill if that article offended you.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Oh ffs El Reg, shill for Google much?

      Correct bit:

      "The one itsy bitsy witsy little difference being that Apple’s implementation *forces* all apps to [use the same engine] which is the complete and total opposite of what Google is doing."

      Incorrect bit:

      "respect the user’s browser preferences, which is a huge plus for user privacy."

      No, because the user doesn't get any preferences. The apps are forced to use Apple's browser preferences. As for privacy, the requirement to use WebKit does not in any way restrict the app's data collection method. A browser can use WebKit to render a page, log the page, scrape data off the page, take action automatically on the page, and send all collected information to the app's developers. That violates a different privacy standard Apple has (though doesn't enforce), but nothing about the browser engine prevents it. Apple's choice benefits Apple, and while it doesn't intrinsically do anything against user privacy, it also doesn't do anything to help it either. It is also restricting user choice, just in a different way with different goals.

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    Ban the Blob

    Sooner the Google Blobi s made illegal the better. But I won't hold my breath, to many brown envelopes keep getting passed around.

    1. ecarlseen

      Re: Ban the Blob

      I have this crazy solution for this called: “I don’t use any Google products [well, except for compatibility testing] and I help others to not use any Google products either.” Nobody forces anyone to use their shit.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Ban the Blob

        > Nobody forces anyone to use their shit.

        The lack of alternative does...

        Apple? Just another walled garden, less greedy, but still dictating what you can use and (thus) do. If I have to chose between two evils, I at least go for the cheaper one. *shrug*

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Ban the Blob

          Ok, I'll bite.

          Is there a "smartphone" on sale anywhere, under £200 (preferably under £150) which does not run Android? Not something five years old, second-hand and unsupported?

          I speak here as someone who can't afford - even if I wanted to - to buy into the Apple ecosystem, who is quite happy to install something like LineageOS, but can't find any recent, affordable hardware on which to do so, would be over the moon to have something by Planet Computers, but definitely can't afford that, and who recently bought a KaiOS phone to see how it does in the hands of a sprog only to find out that it's so inflexible it can't deal with my homebrew email setup, and there's an inbuilt app which fails to update once every single day, and can't be uninstalled or disabled.

          I am very seriously considering building something based around a Pi and a 3G module, except that I can't package it terribly well.

          For most people who want, or need, a smartphone that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, Android is the only choice. Shouldn't we be looking at Google with regulatory eyes considering its monopolistic position?

          M.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Ban the Blob

            There is, but I'm guessing you won't like it. There is a surprisingly active Linux-on-mobile experiment going on. The PinePhone from Pine64 costs $150-$200 and can run your choice of mobile Linux distros. However, it's all very new and experimental, so you're not going to see the ease of use you find on Android. If you're serious about wanting to try the Pi solution, then this is probably a better option as it's done the hardware assembly for you and is a lot more phone-shaped than you would likely achieve.

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: Ban the Blob

              Not sure why you guess I won't like it. I'll admit, I had heard of this device some time ago but haven't been keeping up to date and had completely forgotten about it, The currently available version is certainly interesting. Might be a little underpowered - but then so would any Pi-based device I built. Manjaro would be new to me, but I've used KDE daily for many years.

              Tempting...

              M.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ban the Blob

            This year I got a new Moto G8 (2020 not 2021) for $158 - it has a 5000mWh battery which is what I really wanted. I use it as a GPS unit for bicycling - the cheapest Garmin costs $200 so it is cheaper than that. According to the Lineage OS docs it can take Lineage. However, I don't know if the GPS cycling app I use will run in Lineage. So I am just sticking with Android for the time being to save time because I'd rather be riding the bicycle than *^&)&(_(*^$^!!!!.

            You probably read this recent Reg article: "South Korea fines Google ₩207 billion for forking up attempts at creating Android variants".

            Solving that would be step 1. But there is still a huge ways to go after that to build up a usable system.

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: Ban the Blob

              I can't see a Moto G8 on the Lineage official download page - where did you get that information? I already run Lineage on an original Moto G, and despite one child's poor experience with a G5 (died irretrievably, caught in some kind of boot-loop after almost exactly two years), one other child has recently started using a G10 which so far seems to be a great phone package - were it not for the pop up which insists we haven't finished setting it up because we haven't paired it with a Google account.

              M.

        2. Alan Watson

          Re: Ban the Blob

          Less greedy? No, Apple's greed just manifests in different ways (such as not allowing you to do things that other platforms do using open standards, only offering longer-winded ways or things that only work between Apple devices so that their users get locked in).

          Google and Apple are not as different as their supporters claim.

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Ban the Blob

        Unfortunately, in terms of search, the non-Google alternatives are even more crappy. Actually getting relevant search results from the wonderful world wide web is getting more and more difficult.

      3. RyokuMas Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Ban the Blob

        "Nobody forces anyone to use their shit."

        Okay, can you show me how I can do everything I need to on the web exclusively on sites that do not implement Google analytics?

        I too do my damnedest not to use anything Google -based - including blocking as much of their telemetry as possible - but it's a hell of a setup for your average Joe Sixpack...

  6. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Eh, Chrome hijacked my browser

    Google have form here. Chrome hijacked my default broswer on the last Devuan update.

    Unfortunately, Android is the "least worst" option. They're all shite.

    Android 11 is so bad, I don't know what I'm going to do when my phone breaks, because I'm sure as hell not buying an Apple product.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
  7. Richard Jones 1
    WTF?

    Mobile Web Serches?

    Life is too short to use a mobile to search the web. All I ever got was stupid adverts, often apparently for pointless, noisy games that had to be shut down. Better to use a PC set up to avoid such issues. Good luck to those who have the skill and devotion to find a way to make mobiles useful for searches.

    1. quxinot Silver badge

      Re: Mobile Web Serches?

      This is why having root access is important.

      I choose what appears on my screen, same as my desktop. It's horrifying how much effort it is to maintain such a simple preference, though.

    2. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: Mobile Web Serches?

      Although I agree that it may be better to use a PC, not everybody has or wishes to chose that option.

      I often teach adult IT and many of them only have a phone and seem to manage to do most stuff with varying degrees of success.

      It's one of the reasons why, if somebody isn't running or doesn't know how to run a rooted phone, I at least recommend one of the adblocking browsers that are available for Android phones eg AdAway, Adblock Plus (my fave), AdGuard or simply any browser running ad-blockers.

      I would guess most folk would want 'whatever works' although we 'pro users' may be more fussy re: our requirements.

      Cheers anyway.

  8. big_D Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    No search for you...

    First thing I do on a new phone is select a decent search engine and install a privacy conscious browser.

    The Google search widget is deleted and all Google Assistant stuff also deactivated. Standard Google services, like Maps etc. are deactivated or removed.

    To be honest, I'm seriously thinking of just going iPhone next time around, but I'm not very happy with them either... Maybe a Nokia 3210 isn't such a bad idea.

  9. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I don't get it

    What's the supposed advantage of this new WebLayer?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: I don't get it

      The advantage for Google is it ignores the user's privacy settings.

  10. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    without their knowledge or consent

    How long before this becomes a GDPR issue?

    1. Psmo
      Gimp

      Re: without their knowledge or consent

      Depends on how long Google can tie this up in the courts.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: without their knowledge or consent

      From the article, they started testing it over a year ago, so <-1 years.

      Did you mean "How long until this becomes a GDPR issue that someone with the power is actually looking at"? That might be a higher number as Ireland is in control and doesn't run fast on these things. It could be worth checking if you're in the "small number of users" and filing complaints.

  11. Irongut Silver badge

    The Android Google Search App – the contractually mandated search widget which is the first thing I remove from the home screen on a new phone. Shortly before I block all the contractually mandated, pre-installed Google, Facebook, carrier, etc apps from running.

  12. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Pirate

    Fork it, it's done

    It's time for the big cellphone players to take Android away from Google. The OS started going to hell several versions ago. Each new revision has a slight UX improvement and massive new API restrictions. Right now, Google is hell-bent on breaking the filesystem so badly that only garbage game clones will be left in Play Store when they're done. If you have an microSD-friendly app with Android 11, you may have noticed that it's now 5x to 10000x slower because it's routed through Google's half-assed FUSE. Arbitrary file access will soon be revoked for any app not granted a magic exclusion by Google. In Android 12 there will be absolutely no non-Google way to back up or restore the phone. Even ADB warns that backup/restore is deprecated.

    I haven't had a phone that could run LineageOS in a while but it ran a LOT better than anything from Google and the OEMs.

  13. Jonjonz

    If your so stupid and dull that you rely on that idiot search box, well they already have you and already are likely to know everything about you.

    Google, and F*ckUBook working to dumb down civilization at ever turn.

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