Microsoft vents over FTC Google antitrust ruling

The tech giant isn't best pleased with the FTC's decision concerning complaints over Google's "anti-competitive" business practices.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Microsoft isn't best pleased with the FTC's decision concerning Google's "anti-competitive" business practices, and has released its frustration by means of a lengthy complaint.

After an investigation conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over allegations of anticompetitive behavior, Google was handed a list of changes the firm must make to its business practices, especially when it comes down to search protocols.

In a 4-1 vote, the FTC decided that the search engine giant must change a number of its current business strategies, of which the FTC will "vigorously monitor." The FTC has ordered Google to stop using patents that related to "standardized technologies" purchased through its acquisition of Motorola Mobility to hamper competition, and they must now be offered on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

In addition, Google must stop "scraping" the content of rival companies to better its own search results, and businesses should now be able to opt-out of Google products including Shopping without being penalized in search engine rankings as a result. Another area of concern for competitors who made the original complaints -- including Microsoft -- were the limitations placed on AdWords, which made it different for campaigners to coordinate campaigns. Google has now agreed to remove these restrictions.

Dave Heiner, however, isn't happy with such a ruling.

In a blog post on Thursday, the Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft drew up a lengthy complaint, calling the FTC's decision a "missed opportunity" as well as questioning the commission's investigative practices:

"The FTC took steps today to address some of Google's improper business practices. We find it troubling that the agency did not adhere to its own standard procedures that call for the agency to obtain industry input on proposed relief and secure it through an enforceable consent decree. The FTC's overall resolution of this matter is weak and -- frankly -- unusual. We are concerned that the FTC may not have obtained adequate relief even on the few subjects that Google has agreed to address."

Heiner recognizes that the FTC concluded Google's patent system has to change, saying that the California-based firm has not "lived up to its promises," and furthermore, has blocked not only Microsoft from shipping products with the relevant patent standards, but has also used their portfolio to hamper smaller firms -- but implies it did not go far enough.

He says that Google "can continue to threaten that it will sue for an injunction" and the firm has been given "leeway to sue for an injunction on its standard essential patents" due to the ruling. In addition, Heiner believes that since it is often difficult to tell which patents are standard essential, the risk of injunction may "dissuade firms from seeking to enforce their non-standard essential patents against the company."

This isn't the only issue Heiner wants to hammer home, as he then questions search bias issues:

"Google has long said that it merely aims to offer customers the most relevant answer to their query, and the FTC Commissioners accepted that view. Yet we know that Google routinely and systematically heavily promotes its own services in search results. Is Google+ really more relevant than Facebook? Are Google’s travel results better than those offered by Expedia, Kayak and others?"

Another complaint Heiner has is the spin that Google have placed on the ruling. In post on Google's official blog, the company wrote (emphasis mine):

"The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition."

Heiner's response?

"In other words, there appears to be no reason, despite the FTC's optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognizes its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace."

In addition, Heiner says the company is "disappointed" the FTC chose not to "seek relief" on other issues, such as providing a high quality YouTube Windows Phone app, or tackling the issue of exclusivity rights and advertising contracts on other websites. Instead of pursuing the matter, Microsoft believes that the commission has "depriving American consumers of benefits that appear on the horizon in Europe."

Before the ruling was made public, Heiner wrote an additional blog post, resurrecting compatibility issues between Google's YouTube app and the Windows Phone.

Within the complaint, Heiner accused Google of impeding a competitive marketplace as well as restricting other firms by stonewalling its services -- specifically, well-known compatibility issues experienced by Windows Phone users through the YouTube application. By "refusing" to allow Windows Phone users to have the same features as Android or iOS smartphone users, Heiner argued that this was simply one more example of how Google's business practices demonstrated the firm's allegedly anti-competitive nature.

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