Microsoft-backed groups praise EU’s antitrust ultimatum

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — A pair of Microsoft-backed industry groups applauded the ultimatum European Union antitrust regulators issued to rival Google over alleged anti-competitive practices.

The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) on Monday called the EU’s move “very impressive” and said action on the part of Brussels regulators “will have a profoundly positive impact on innovation,” if they can persuade Google to change its behavior.

Although the group counts more than 3,000 small- and mid-sized app development and IT firms, ACT is also backed by some of the biggest names in the business, including Microsoft, Oracle, eBay and Intel.

“It is better to outline concerns and give a company the ability and flexibility to remedy them on their own before launching a formal statement of objections,” wrote Jonathan Zuck, the president of the ACT, in a Monday blog. “We hope that Google takes the opportunity seriously to find effective solutions.”

Zuck was referring to the press release issued by the Competition Commission, the EU’s antitrust agency, and the letter that Joaquin Almunia, who heads the commission, sent to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google.

Almunia outlined four areas of concern, all having to do with search and online advertising, that the commission wants addressed. He gave Google “a matter of weeks” to come up with proposals of its own. Failing that, Almunia said, the EC would continue its investigation into possible anti-competitive practices by Google, “including the possible sending of a Statement of Objections,” a list of formal charges.

ACT cast the battle as between Google and small companies, rather than between Microsoft and Google.

“Because these issues impact small businesses the hardest, it is critical that the EU takes decisive steps to address the Google antitrust problem.” Zuck said.

The group has been a prominent defender of Microsoft’s interests in the past as well.

In 2004 and 2009, ACT argued in favor of Microsoft when the Redmond, Wash., company faced EU antitrust investigations.

Also Monday, the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace (ICOMP), another Microsoft-backed group, praised Almunia’s stand while pushing for what it called “stringent measures” against the search giant.

“Google has a track record of frustrating official investigations and many third parties have had unhappy experiences when entering into negotiations,” said David Wood, counsel for ICOMP, in a statement Monday.

Wood also read into Almunia’s demands. “[They imply] that the commission has found that Google’s behavior constituted an abuse of its dominant position in the online search market,” Wood stated.

Among the original complainants who pleaded their cases before the commission in 2010 — which led to the still-ongoing investigation — was U.K. price-comparison website Foundem, a member of ICOMP.

In 2010, Google blamed Microsoft for sparking the probe.

Google on Monday said it disagreed with the commission’s conclusions but would be “happy to discuss any concerns they might have.”

Microsoft and Google remain locked in a battle for search engine share, which the latter continues to win in the U.S. and worldwide by wide margins. According to Irish metrics company StatCounter, Google controlled an overwhelming 94.5 per cent of Europe’s search market last month.

(From Computerworld U.S.)

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