Microsoft files antitrust complaint against Google

Microsoft has filed a formal complaint with the European antitrust regulators over Google's behaviour in search, online advertising and smartphone software
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Microsoft has launched its first ever antitrust complaint, telling the European Commission that Google is engaging in a variety of anticompetitive practices.

Microsoft Google antitrust

Microsoft first antitrust complaint, against Google, is not a filing the company takes "lightly", according to legal chief Brad Smith. Photo credit: ZDNet.com

In a lengthy blog post published on Wednesday, Microsoft's legal chief Brad Smith said the software maker has filed a formal complaint with the Commission as part of the EU administration's ongoing antitrust investigation into Google.

Microsoft has itself been the subject of numerous antitrust cases around the world, including a notable Commission investigation that ended with Microsoft being forced to offer browsers other than Internet Explorer to Windows users. In his post, Smith admitted there was "irony in today's filing".

"Having spent more than a decade wearing the shoe on the other foot with the European Commission, the filing of a formal antitrust complaint is not something we take lightly," Smith wrote. "This is the first time Microsoft Corporation has ever taken this step. More so than most, we recognise the importance of ensuring that competition laws remain balanced and that technology innovation moves forward."

Amelia Torres, the spokeswoman for Europe's competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, said in a statement that "the Commission takes note of the complaint and, as is the procedure, will inform Google and will ask for its views on it".

Microsoft's complaints

Microsoft's filing outlines six complaints against Google, one of which is the same issue about search ranking that sparked the Commission's current investigation. Rival search companies, particularly price comparison services, have complained that Google is unfairly ranking them down in its own search results. Microsoft's own Ciao subsidiary is one of those complainants, so the filing on Wednesday is not the company's first involvement in the wider investigation.

Google is "not surprised" to see Microsoft make its series of complaints, as "one of [its] subsidiaries was one of the original complainants", a spokesperson for the company told ZDNet UK.

The search specialist's popular YouTube video site is central to two of the new complaints. According to Microsoft, Google does not allow rival search engines such as Microsoft's Bing to link to YouTube videos in the same rich way as Google is able to do.

In addition, Windows Phones are blocked from offering complex YouTube functionality, Smith said. Google Android phones and iPhones allow users to search for video categories and see ratings within YouTube, but this is not possible on Windows Phones, he said, noting that Apple offers only Google search services on its handsets.

"As a result, Microsoft's YouTube app on Windows phones is basically just a browser displaying YouTube's mobile website, without the rich functionality offered on competing phones," Smith said. "Microsoft is ready to release a high-quality YouTube app for Windows Phone. We just need permission to access YouTube in the way that other phones already do, permission Google has refused to provide."

E-books and advertising

Microsoft also wants the European Commission to provide a similar assessment of Google's e-book ambitions as that offered by a New York federal district court on 22 March.

Google wants to digitise so-called 'orphan books', for which no copyright holder can be found. However, it wants to do this on an exclusive basis, which would mean Google alone would be able to produce snippets of those texts in its search results. The federal court said this would "give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission".

Microsoft also claims that Google restricts the access its advertising customers have to their own data. Those who advertise with Google "input large amounts of data into Google's ad servers in the course of managing their advertising campaigns", Smith said. However, they are contractually prohibited from using that data in an "interoperable" way with other search advertising platforms, such as Microsoft's AdCenter, he said.

"This makes it much more costly for Google's advertisers to run portions of their campaigns with any competitor, and thus less likely that they will do so," Smith said. "That is a significant problem because most advertisers figure that they have to advertise first with Google. If it's too expensive to port their advertising campaign data to competing advertising platforms, many won't do it. Competing search engines are left with less relevant ads, and less revenue."

Search boxes

The last of Microsoft's complaints concerns the Google search boxes used on many websites. Google contractually blocks those sites from using search boxes from rivals as well, Smith noted, arguing it is "obviously difficult" for competing search engines to gain users when nearly every search box is powered by Google.

"Google's exclusivity terms have even blocked Microsoft from distributing its Windows Live services, such as email and online document storage, through European telecommunications companies because these services are monetised through Bing search boxes," Smith added.

ZDNet UK has asked Microsoft why it made its maiden antitrust complaint in Europe, rather than the US, where both it and Google have their headquarters. The company did not respond to requests to provide comment on this matter.

Google said it is continuing to discuss the case with the Commission and is "happy to explain to anyone how our business works".

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.


Editorial standards