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Antitrust spat heats up between Google, Microsoft

MicrosoftA war of words is heating up between Google, Microsoft and a host of smaller sites over alleged anticompetitive behaviour by Google in the online search market.

A variety of news outlets and blogs are reporting on allegations that Microsoft may be engaging in a proxy war against Google, using smaller companies to fight its battles.

The allegations

In a recent blog post, Google discussed Microsoft's ties to two European websites that have filed antitrust complaints against Google with the European Commission. Although the search giant did not come out and accuse Microsoft of having a hand in the complaints, there was a broadly understood implication that Microsoft was somehow involved.

Law professor Eric Goldman has also written about an alleged Microsoft antitrust campaign against Google. Goldman pointed to the fact that two small US-based companies - MyTriggers and TradeComet - hired the legal firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP to represent their antitrust concerns against Google. Microsoft, Goldman said, is a longtime client of Cadwalader for antitrust issues.

Google may have been unwilling to accuse Microsoft of any behind-the-scenes shenanigans last week, but on Monday Google's allegations were a little more direct.

"It's become clear that our competitors are scouring court dockets around the world looking for complaints against Google into which they can inject themselves," a Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal.

The denials

In a blog post on Friday, Dave Heiner, Microsoft vice-president and deputy general counsel, called Google to account on its finger-pointing. He argued that Microsoft is concerned by "Google practices that tend to lock in business partners and content (like Google Books) and exclude competitors".

But Heiner never really denies Microsoft's ties over current antitrust complaints against Google. Instead, Heiner says some "concerned companies" have turned to Microsoft for advice in apparent antitrust issues against Google. Microsoft's advice to these companies is to talk to the relevant competition law authorities when "antitrust concerns appear to be substantial".

It's worth pointing out, however, that Microsoft flatly denied to the Journal that it had orchestrated any antitrust complaints against Google.

Vertical search is (sometimes) spam

Two of the internet search companies involved in the current antitrust complaints against Google - Foundem and Ejustice.fr - are both known as vertical search companies. Vertical search basically means these sites are focused on content for a specific subject or category; Foundem is a price comparison shopping website and Ejustice helps users to find links to legal information in France.

Both sites say they have been harmed financially, because of low and penalising Google search rankings. Google hasn't commented specifically on these cases, but the company did tell The New York Times it "penalises some, but not all, vertical search engines because they are essentially spam". Google's reasoning for penalising some vertical search engines, according to the Times, is that the purpose of these sites is to collect "content and links from other sites to generate traffic and ad revenue". Funny thing is, that sounds a lot like what Google does too, doesn't it?

See also:

EU begins Google antitrust investigation

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