Is Apple Stepping Up Search Engine Push As Google Faces Regulatory Fire?

As Google faces an antitrust battle against the U.S. Department of Justice and 11 states’ attorneys, Apple is preparing to protect its interests by pushing forward on development of a  competitive search engine, argues a Financial Times analysis.

Speculation about Apple developing a search engine is hardly new: It goes back at least as far as 2014, when Apple introduced its own web crawler, notes Ben Lovejoy, EU editor of 9to5mac.

But Google’s estimated $8 billion to $12 billion annual payments to Apple to be the default search engine on Apple iOS devices —a deal that’s already been characterized as anticompetitive by U.K. regulators investigating Apple — could now be in jeopardy.

FT notes several signs that, faced with that potential loss of revenue, Apple may be ramping up its search-engine efforts.

For instance, the report points to a “little-noticed” change in the latest iPhone operating system, iOS 14, that means Apple is now showing its own search results and linking directly to sites when users type queries from the home screen.

It also notes that Applebot’s crawl rate, or the number of times the bot visits sites to update its database, has increased significantly, and quotes former Google executives saying that Apple is uniquely positioned to go up against Google in the search-engine sphere. Further, FT points out, Apple hired away Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea.

But the Giannandrea hire was back in April 2018, and “all of the known facts” cited by FT “would be consistent with Apple simply working on making Siri smarter,” argues 9to5mac’s Lovejoy.

“The single biggest argument against Apple creating a search engine is the company’s strong privacy stance, and its less-than-flattering commentary on ad-funded services like Google,” he writes, adding in a tweet that launching a search engine “would involve a massive U-turn by Apple.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook has stressed to users, for instance, that the company’s business model is “selling great products,” rather than selling users’ information. “We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. “We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you…”

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