Apple AI Chief Points Out New Private Browser Search At Google Trial
John Giannandrea, a former top Google executive who decamped to Apple Inc. to head its artificial intelligence business, pointed out a quiet change in the latest iPhone software update that allows users to select a search engine other than Google’s when browsing the internet in private mode.
The iOS 17, released Monday, added “a second setting, so you could choose two different” search engines, Giannandrea said in testimony in federal court in Washington as part of the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
The change means iPhone users can more easily switch between Google and a different search engine with a single tap.
The difficulty of switching search engines has been hotly contested in US government’s antitrust suit, which alleges that Google illegally maintained its monopoly over online search via contracts with web browsers and smartphone makers, including Apple.
Google said in its opening statement last week that it’s easy for users to change search engines in a “matter of seconds.” But on Thursday, Gabriel Weinberg, the chief executive officer of rival search engine DuckDuckGo, testified that Google’s default status on browsers represents a barrier to user switching, saying there are “just too many steps.”
Google’s contract with Apple makes it the pre-selected, or default, search engine in Safari, the web browser for iPhone, iPad and Mac computers. In exchange, Google pays Apple some of the revenue it earns from advertising. Though the exact amount is confidential, the Justice Department said earlier in the case that Google pays Apple between $4 billion and $7 billion annually.
In his testimony, Giannandrea said Google will still be the default search engine for Safari in private mode, which doesn’t keep a history of the websites a user visits. But users will now have a choice to pick Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.’s Bing, DuckDuckGo or Ecosia for private browsing, he said.
Giannandrea worked at Google between 2010 and 2018 as senior vice president of engineering for search. The Scotland-born executive, now 58, then moved to Apple, where he heads the company’s AI and machine learning initiatives. He testified briefly on Thursday, returning to the stand for more than four hours Friday in a sealed session.