To Bing or Not to Bing? That is the question

microsoft-pixabayIt was earlier today that the Vice-President of the European Commission, Joaquin Almunia, received an open letter signed by a dozen complainants that ask for the strictest possible punishment in the long pending Google Antitrust case. This letter signed by 11 internet companies came as the next strategic move of the fierce Anti-Google lobby that is playing all its cards now in its effort to convince the European Commission that Google is evil and that no settlement should be accepted with the Internet giant.

Same old Story

The antitrust investigation of the Commission against Google, which will celebrate next November its 3-year anniversary, as expected, has not yet come to conclusion. It was indeed in last month’s article at the Sting with the title “It ain’t over until Google says it’s over” where I wrote that “it will take quite some time until the DG Competition makes any announcement on this complex issue”. Almost two months have passed since then and still we‘ve got no official announcement by Mr. Almunia on Google’s reply to the DG Comp concerns.

As was stated in my story back then, the Commission called Google to answer four competition concerns:

“First, in its general search results on the web, Google displays links to its own vertical search services…differently than it does for links to competitors.

Our second concern relates to the way Google copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings… This practice may impact for instance travel sites or sites providing restaurant guides.

Our third concern relates to agreements between Google and partners on the websites of which Google delivers search advertisements…The agreements result in de facto exclusivity requiring them to obtain all or most of their requirements of search advertisements from Google…

Our fourth concern relates to restrictions that Google puts to the portability of online search advertising campaigns from its platform AdWords to the platforms of competitors.”

Since May 2012 when those concerns were published, Google has remained silent and only the last day of January they sent their answer with suggestions on how to resolve the issue and reach a settlement with the European Commission. Since then nothing has been officially announced by the two parties that fell into a deep almost two month negotiation. According to the Sting’s sources, Google is looking for a settlement and so does Mr. Almunia who had originally admitted that he is in favour of a settlement. One thing is for sure, though, Google will not get away with it as easily as they did with the Federal Trade Commission in the US at the beginning of the year where they won in a rather similar antitrust case.

It’s a Microsoft campaign after all

There is a common denominator in both cases, the antitrust investigation against Google in the US and in Europe, and this is that in both cases similar letters were written to lobby the Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission accordingly. And the similarity is not focused only on the writing style which is stressing on the unfair monopolistic behaviour of Google but also on the names of the writers of those complain/lobby letters. In both cases there is at least one common sender address and that is the UK-based price comparison outfit called Foundem that since 2010 keeps complaining both in the US and Europe about Google’s evil operation. Together with Foundem other companies like Fairsearch, Hotmap, Expedia and Trip Advisor joined this Anti-Google crusade claiming that the way Google lists search results prohibits their own links to get positioned high. All the above companies are either widely backed by the software giant Microsoft like Fairsearch in the US, or belong at the European lobbyist group for companies doing business in the digital arena, called iComp.

As pointed out in my previous story on Microsoft’s Anti-Google campaign, iComp in Europe was one of the protagonists during the 2010 initial antitrust investigation by the European Commission. It seems that since it has been leaked that probably the Commission will come to a settlement with Google, Microsoft, the biggest iComp member, is using the lobby organization to give the last lobby fight against Google. In today’s letter those 11 companies are basically repeating or, better said, reminding to Mr. Almunia his own complaints. Moreover, the 11 companies are urging the Commission to issue the Statement of Objections (SO). SO is a legal instrument used by the Commission to describe the antitrust case and give a deadline for a company response. If the company fails to reply, then it can be fined with up to 10% of its turnover. Apparently, Microsoft urgently demands Google’s blood spill.

Googling “truth almunia antitrust google”

As in my previous story on the issue and since the EC does not uncover Google’s defense on the allegations, the conclusion cannot be different this time. Bing is losing game and match and Microsoft is using any means to hurt the lord of the rings in the search engine market. Nevertheless, it is quite unclear what can be the benefit for the European consumer out of all this. It would have been better if we were presented with Google’s point of view so that we can weigh things and judge. Then, we could see for ourselves whether Google is monopolistic or not. Instead, neither the Commission nor Google uncover any information, leaving the most important stakeholder of this issue, the European Internet surfer, outside of the house.

What is Mr. Almunia afraid of? And if he cannot uncover any important details before the final decision is made, are we going to find out ever what is the position of Google in all this? This spooky covert negotiation of the EC with Google while Microsoft’s lobbyists are protesting outside Berlaymont really gives me the creeps. The European consumer deserves to find out the truth behind this corporate lobby war. After all, it is her that is going to Google or Bing tomorrow “Almunia Antitrust Google”.

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