Adopting the role of hunter after being hunted for years, Microsoft Corp. lodged an antitrust complaint against rival Google Inc. with the same European authorities who last decade fined Microsoft billions of dollars.
The Microsoft complaint—its first ever, the company’s top lawyer says—is rich with symbolism about how far the high-tech tides have shifted in a decade, and about how the battle for the lucrative Internet search market is being fought.
“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,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, wrote in a blog post outlining the software giant’s concerns.
Microsoft, whose Windows monopoly was a target of antitrust regulators, now seeks to challenge Google’s dominance of online search and advertising. In Europe, Google’s market share of Web searches is as high as 95%, Mr. Smith says. In the U.S., Google handles about two-thirds of searches.
A small posse of companies—one a Microsoft subsidiary, one backed by a Microsoft-funded trade group—is already pursuing abuse-of-dominance claims against Google in Europe, and the European Commission already has an open probe.
As a practical matter, Microsoft’s complaint adds a fresh allegation to those already leveled against Google: Microsoft says the search giant blocks its products from fully accessing information about YouTube videos, thus permitting Google and mobile applications for its Android software to return better video search results than Microsoft’s Bing engine or its Windows Phone apps. Google owns YouTube.
“We’re not surprised that Microsoft has done this, since one of their subsidiaries was one of the original complainants,” said a Google spokesman. “For our part, we continue to discuss the case with the European Commission and we’re happy to explain to anyone how our business works.”
The Google spokesman declined to discuss the specifics of Microsoft’s allegations, referring instead to a previous statement in which Google said believes it operates “in line with European competition law.”
The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, began an informal investigation into Google’s conduct in November 2010. In February of that year, it disclosed that it had received complaints about Google. Those came from Ciao.de, a Microsoft subsidiary in Germany; Foundem.co.uk, a price-comparison site in the U.K.; and ejustice.fr, a French site for legal queries.
Microsoft dwarfs all of them. Its involvement means the commission will likely be provided with more evidence to sift through, and it will certainly raise the profile and pressure of the case.
But much of the information apparently in Microsoft’s complaint has been raised in substance before by other aggrieved parties. It is difficult to know for certain; a Microsoft spokesman refused to release a copy of the complaint filed with EU regulators.
In his blog post late Wednesday, Microsoft’s Mr. Smith said the filing described “pattern of actions that Google has taken to entrench its dominance in the markets for online search and search advertising.”
Broadly, Mr. Smith said Google has tried to “block access” to information so that its own search engine does the best job indexing it and selling ads against it.
The blog post refers to a well-worn dispute between Google and book publishers in the U.S. over access to digitized books, and to the existing complaints of the smaller search sites that Google penalizes them by demoting search results that would lead Web surfers to those sites.
Microsoft also alleges that Google has exclusivity contracts with website operators that prevent those operators from providing results from other search vendors. Those allegations were previously disclosed in November by the commission; at the time a Google spokesman said the company doesn’t impose exclusivity contracts and that a few exclusive contracts did exist but had been ended years ago.