imageMicrosoft’s general counsel has announced that Microsoft is filing a formal complaint with the European Commission as part of an anti-competitive claim. I’ll provide the entirety of the post below because it’s actually a very interesting read, but start with the irony in all of this, which is that the same action against Microsoft is what led to Microsoft changing its practices dramatically and losing a huge amount of market share in a host categories. But, to our mobile readers, there’s a direct claim that Google is intentionally crippling YouTube access to Windows Phones as part an an anti-competitive practice. Here are his words:

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.

Wow not only are those some big allegations but describing the YouTube app on your platform in those terms is a pretty big admission. At least now we know why it sucks so bad. In fact it has 2.5 stars despite being the top downloaded app.

Anyway, get out your popcorn because this is just the beginning. And yes, I’ll be the first to make the jump and say that Google is crippling YouTube on WP7 because it does think that WP7 is a real competitor that it needs to contend with even at this early stage.

Here’s the post in full for your reader pleasure. Sound off in the comments:

Microsoft is filing a formal complaint with the European Commission as part of the Commission’s ongoing investigation into whether Google has violated European competition law. We thought it important to be transparent and provide some information on what we’re doing and why.

At the outset, we should be among the first to compliment Google for its genuine innovations, of which there have been many over the past decade. As the only viable search competitor to Google in the U.S. and much of Europe, we respect their engineering prowess and competitive drive. Google has done much to advance its laudable mission to “organize the world’s information,” but we’re concerned by a broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative.

We’ve therefore decided to join a large and growing number of companies registering their concerns about the European search market. By the European Commission’s own reckoning, Google has about 95 percent of the search market in Europe. This contrasts with the United States, where Microsoft serves about a quarter of Americans’ search needs either directly through Bing or through our partnership with Yahoo!.

At Microsoft we’ve shown that we’re prepared to work hard and invest literally billions of dollars annually to offer Bing, a search service that many now regard as the most innovative available. But, hard work and innovation need a fair and competitive marketplace in which to thrive, and twice the Department of Justice has intervened to thwart Google’s unlawful conduct from impeding fair competition. In 2008 the DOJ moved to file suit against Google for its unlawful attempt to tie up and set search advertising prices at Yahoo!, causing Google to back down. And last year the DOJ formally objected to Google’s efforts to monopolize book content, a position affirmed by a federal district court in New York just last week. Unfortunately, even this has not stopped the spread by Google of new and disconcerting practices in the United States.

As troubling as the situation is in United States, it is worse in Europe. That is why our filing today focuses on a pattern of actions that Google has taken to entrench its dominance in the markets for online search and search advertising to the detriment of European consumers.

How does it do this? Google has built its business on indexing and displaying snippets of other organizations’ Web content. It understands as well as anyone that search engines depend upon the openness of the Web in order to function properly, and it’s quick to complain when others undermine this. Unfortunately, Google has engaged in a broadening pattern of walling off access to content and data that competitors need to provide search results to consumers and to attract advertisers.

On PCs it is usually not difficult for people to navigate to any search engine. Google in fact makes this point virtually every time someone raises antitrust concerns about their practices. Their defense ignores the hugely important fact that there are many other important ways that search services compete. Search engines compete to index the Web as fully as possible so they can generate good search results, they compete to gain advertisers (the source of revenue in this business), and they compete to gain distribution of their search boxes through Web sites. Consumers will not benefit from clicking to alternative sites unless all search engines have a fair opportunity to compete in each of these areas.

Our filing details many instances where Google is impeding competition in these areas. A half-dozen examples below help illustrate some of our concerns.

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.

Third, Google is seeking to block access to content owned by book publishers. This was underscored in federal court in New York last week, in the decision involving Google’s effort to obtain exclusive and unfettered access to the large volume of so-called “orphan books”—books for which no copyright holder can readily be found. Under Google’s plan only its search engine would be able to return search results from these books. As the federal court said in rejecting this plan, “Google’s ability to deny competitors the ability to search orphan books would further entrench Google’s market power in the online search market.” This is an important initial step under U.S. law, but it needs to be reinforced by similar positions in Europe and the rest of the world.

Fourth, Google is even restricting its customers’—namely, advertisers’—access to their own data. Advertisers input large amounts of data into Google’s ad servers in the course of managing their advertising campaigns. This data belongs to the advertisers: it reflects their decisions about their own business. But Google contractually prohibits advertisers from using their data in an interoperable way with other search advertising platforms, such as Microsoft’s adCenter.

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. 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. And while this restraint isn’t visible to consumers, its effects are nonetheless felt across the Web. Advertising revenue is the economic propellant fueling the billions of dollars needed for ongoing search investments. By reducing competitors’ ability to attract advertising revenue, this restriction strikes at the heart of a competitive market.

Fifth, this undermining of competition is reflected in concerns that go beyond Google’s control over content. One of the ways that search engines attract users is through distribution of search boxes through Web sites. Unfortunately, Google contractually blocks leading Web sites in Europe from distributing competing search boxes. 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 monetized through Bing search boxes.

Finally, we share the concerns expressed by many others that Google discriminates against would-be competitors by making it more costly for them to attain prominent placement for their advertisements. Microsoft has provided the Commission with a considerable body of expert analysis concerning how search engine algorithms work and the competitive significance of promoting or demoting various advertisements.

Over the past year, a growing number of advertisers, publishers, and consumers have expressed to us their concerns about the search market in Europe. They’ve urged us to share our knowledge of the search market with competition officials. As they’ve pointed out, the stakes are high for the European economy. On any given day, more than half of all Europeans use the Internet, and more than 90 percent of them look for information about goods and services on the Web. Indeed, the European Commission’s Digital Agenda made clear that commerce is moving online, where two-thirds of Europeans begin their shopping process. It’s therefore critical that search engines and online advertising move forward in an open, fair and competitive manner.

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.

We readily appreciate that Google should continue to have the freedom to innovate. But it shouldn’t be permitted to pursue practices that restrict others from innovating and offering competitive alternatives. That’s what it’s doing now. And that’s what we hope European officials will assess and ultimately decide to stop.

7 COMMENTS

  1. That is interesting for sure! That explains why the YouTube app sucks so bad!

    The fact that Google has 95% of the search market in Europe doesn’t surprise me. As an MS fanboy, I would love to use Bing as my search engine, but it really doesn’t do a good job in Denmark (and the rest of europe, I guess). If I search for “pizza” in Bing, it shows me the german(!!) wikipedia as the first result. If I search in Google, I get all the right results with nearby maps, pizzerias, pictures etc…
    Bing maps vs Google maps is exactly the same story. Bing Maps suck and Google Maps is of course excellent. So yes, I use Google as my everyday search engine.

    Regarding my WP7, the search button is _never_ used for the same reason, and is only used when pressed by accident, and the Maps app is only used when showing the phone to others. I look forward to the day, when MS fixes this and makes Bing a good experience…

  2. This makes me wonder about other online tools that Google has made available. Fresh off of Simmons WP7 No comments is a screenshot of the gmail client on android phones. It’s not that the WP7 browser can’t do that, it’s that Google hasn’t coded their site to work with anything other than the browser tech they use.

    And maps, they provided a really nice mapping software for windows mobile, why haven’t they brought that to windows phone?

  3. When Google started they were using Microsoft operating systems and software to run their search engine. Microsoft refused to provide them the support they required to remain competitive. Google was forced to switch to Linux to compete with Microsoft search engines. Partly with Google’s support of Linux, Linux has developed into a mature operating system that will blow away any operating system Microsoft currently has to offer. The Linux home user graphical user interface is just as easy to use (or maybe easier to use) than the Windows graphical user interface, now.
    Android simply takes this to the next level with cell phones that now sport processors as powerful as the average workstation processor.
    I agree that Google is doing a Microsoft to Microsoft and that just because Microsoft does it to everyone else does not make doing it right. But I also see the poetic justice. Shouldn’t Google have the right to keep Microsoft from putting Google search results in Bing if Microsoft has the right to keep Google from using Bing search results?

  4. You know, the Youtube app for Android for a long time was pretty weak, couldn’t even do HD (might be wrong about that, maybe it did), and later wouldn’t do HD by default unless you rooted it and did some trick.

    A few Android OS releases later, it’s pretty sweet.

    Is it possible that something along those lines is happening with Youtube and WP7 and that the natural progression of things, sans lawsuits, would lead to a solid client? What does Google have to gain by going out of their way to WP7 users?

    Are you aware that Google has suffered from a history of their apps, and I’m talking good ones like Google Voice, being rejected by Apple? Maybe they would have given Apple a turn-by-turn Google Maps if they didn’t think the odds were too high of spending a lot of time porting it in vain. And Microsoft, with their App Store-esque “quality controlling,” maybe they’d do the same.

    And let’s be reasonable. If you were Exxon, and this isn’t the best analogy but you get what I’m saying, would you make rolling out ethenol unto the world an equal priority to your crude oil shipping and gasoline refinement operations?

    I got a good article idea that maybe hasn’t been done elsewhere, a lawsuit victory batting average comparison of the various companies we talk about. It wouldn’t be too flattering to companies in terms of being litigious, so how about just focusing on lawsuits for which they were the target? Ahh nevermind, that’s boring.

    In summation, we should explore alternative energy sources — eventually.

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