Microsoft launches EU challenge against Google

Microsoft says Google is restricting competition in online search. And if anyone should know about antitrust issues, it's Microsoft...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
In recent years, Microsoft has been more used to being the target of antitrust investigations, not the instigator of them. But for once the boot is on the other foot: it's filing a formal complaint to the European Commission about Google, claiming that its big rival has unfairly violated EU law by restricting competition in the European online search market. We don't pretend to understand the technicalities (naturally, Google insists it's done nothing wrong). But it's an unusual situation for Microsoft; it does rather betray your place in the pecking order when you have to complain to the regulator that the big boys are stealing your lunch money...

Microsoft explains its reasons for bringing the case in a blog - because, apparently, it's 'important to be transparent' (some might argue that transparency hasn't always been Microsoft's number one priority, but we'll let that slide for now). After getting the pleasantries out of the way - 'we should be among the first to compliment Google for its genuine innovations, of which there have been many over the past decade' - its general counsel points out that Google controls about 95% of the European search market, a much higher share than it has in the US. He suggests this is because of 'a pattern of actions that Google has taken to entrench its dominance... to the detriment of European consumers.'

What does he mean, exactly? Well, in general terms Microsoft's beef is that Google is guilty of 'walling off access to content and data that competitors need' to operate. For instance, Microsoft claims that Google (via a number of 'technical measures' that are way too complicated for us to understand) prevents Bing and Microsoft smartphones from accessing YouTube videos for its search results. It also says it blocks off access to book content, and prevents advertisers from accessing their own data if they try to work with other platforms (like Microsoft's adCenter). And it also says Google insists on big companies exclusively using its search box on their websites.

Microsoft insists it's just one of a number of companies that's worried about Google's behaviour. And since it does, as it says, invest billions in its search technology, it's entitled to expect a fair fight. But it is a bit strange seeing Microsoft play the competition card, after years of being on the wrong end of regulators' wrath. To be fair, it does at least admit there's a certain irony about the boot being on the other foot; 'filing an antitrust complaint is not something we takes lightly', it said today.

Google will fight the allegations tooth and nail of course, arguing that its market dominance is just a reflection of its superior offering. An argument with which Microsoft will be rather familiar...

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