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by Lucy Griffiths on 24th February 2010
The tit-for-tat battle between Google and Microsoft could be heading to the European courts after it was announced that the former is now the subject of an antitrust investigation. This news comes as three executives are found guilty of invading privacy in Italy.
An initial complaint from consumer review site Ciao in Germany has now spilled over to Brussels and the halls of the European Commission. The antitrust probe has been launched following complaints from Foundem, ejustice.fr and the aforementioned Ciao.
As with most antitrust suits, it relates to Google supposedly using, or perhaps abusing their market dominance in the fields of search and search advertising. However, this is far from coincidental. Microsoft now own Ciao, even renaming it ‘Ciao from Bing’, and have a fair stake in the ICOMP (Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace) member, Foundem. This certainly looks like a shot across the bows from Microsoft, an attempt to derail the juggernaut-like progress of Google.
This influence has not been missed by Google themselves. In their European Policy Blog, they defend themselves against the accusations. In an attempt to pour cold water on the situation, Julia Holtz, Senior Competition Counsel at Google said “we’ve always worked hard to ensure that our success is earned the right way — through technological innovation and great products, rather than by locking in our users or advertisers, or creating artificial barriers to entry.”
However, this very same post also meanders through a number of accusations against Microsoft and paper thin defence of policies. Whilst I don’t doubt the accuracy of Google’s claims, the presentation of their argument could do with a little strengthening. It does smack of Microsoft’s influence, who were themselves the subject of a drawn-out antitrust case against their Internet Explorer browser, but that’s the industry they find themselves in. It can be cutthroat. The search engine market is hugely lucrative and as such it often spills over into these tit-for-tat spats.
This won’t be over any time soon and could well prompt other businesses, competitors and governments to look closely at the effect that Google’s domination is having on them.
Unfortunately it couldn’t come at a worse time for the company. This fresh court action comes on the same day that three executives were found guilty of violating privacy in Italy. In this case it was claimed that the executives were negligent in allowing a video that showed a disabled child being bullied to be hosted on Google’s YouTube site. David Carl Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George De Los Reyes only received suspended sentences, but the two year case has highlighted the potential culpability of Internet sites that host content. In turn, it could also prompt stricter guidelines on what can and can’t be shared. Don’t expect a full overhaul, but Google and their various competitors will have to take this action very seriously and pay more attention to the content they’re hosting.