I've suggested in the past that neither
Microsoft nor Google should be pointing the antitrust/monopoly finger at each other. After all, both companies seem prone to getting accused of antitrust violations. Yet, as a competitive tool to whack at competitors, it's apparently way too tempting. Not long after Microsoft spent years defending itself against antitrust charges in the EU, it has now filed a complaint against Google in the EU
, alleging antitrust violations. To be fair, the company is pretty upfront about how this might seem ironic:
There of course will be some who will point out the 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. This is the first time Microsoft Corporation has ever taken this step. More so than most, we recognize the importance of ensuring that competition laws remain balanced and that technology innovation moves forward.
To be fair, the specific antitrust concerns that Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith lays out against Google appear to be a bit more compelling than some of the previous attempts
by Microsoft to make Google out to be a monopolist, such as silly claims about where companies appear in search results. Specifically, Microsoft highlights Google blocking access to certain YouTube data, so that only Google can provide good searches of YouTube videos, as well as blocking Microsoft's mobile platform from accessing more YouTube data, which is done by Android.
First, in 2006 Google acquired YouTube--and since then it has put in place a growing number of technical measures to restrict competing search engines from properly accessing it for their search results. Without proper access to YouTube, Bing and other search engines cannot stand with Google on an equal footing in returning search results with links to YouTube videos and that, of course, drives more users away from competitors and to Google.
Second, in 2010 and again more recently, Google blocked Microsoft's new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube. Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It's done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn't offer a competing search service.
Unfortunately, Google has refused to allow Microsoft's new Windows Phones to access this YouTube metadata in the same way that Android phones and iPhones do. As a result, Microsoft's YouTube "app" on Windows Phones is basically just a browser displaying YouTube's mobile Web site, without the rich functionality offered on competing phones. 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.
While the full details aren't clear, and this is only one side, those do seem like valid concerns if it's true that Google is really limiting such access. The concern over antitrust is always in whether or not the company is abusing its position to hold back competition unfairly. I don't know if Microsoft has a case, and I'm especially skeptical of the EU's antitrust process, which seems more focused on punishing success than on making sure there's no real consumer harm. However, this is certainly going to be a case worth paying attention to over the next few years...