Is Google Talking Trash to the European Commission over Internet Explorer?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-01-18 Print this article Print

So Microsoft is again being called to the anti-competitive carpet by the European Commission (Wall Street Journal pay wall), this time over the bundling of its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system. Shocking.

In a piece detailing how Microsoft and the EC got to this point, my Microsoft Watch colleague Joe Wilcox points out that the commission started the browser investigation following a complaint filed by browser also-ran Opera.

However, he wonders whether or not Google lobbied the EC to come down on Microsoft as well. As if the EC needs to be told to go after Microsoft after five years of persistent opposition.

Why would Google complain about IE? Because its own Chrome Web browser is struggling to gain share versus Microsoft IE, which is at 69 percent, and Mozilla Firefox, which is at about 20 percent. Since September, Google's Chrome has garnered a meager 1.1 percent share of the browser market.

Google needs all the help it can get to buoy Chrome versus those rivals. If Opera can complain, why can't Google? Moreover, if Google did in fact lodge a complaint with the EC, it would be simply repaying Microsoft the favor.

Remember, Microsoft threw a conniption when Google bid to buy DoubleClick, fighting hard to convince the Senate that the buy would make Google too powerful to fight in the market. Microsoft last year then opposed Google's agreement to partner with Yahoo over paid search for the same reasons.

Joe Wilcox has an answer for why Google should think twice about griping about Microsoft to the EC:

Some advice to Google: The cop you help to get Microsoft will one day come after you. In September 2007, I warned that the European appeals court ruling against Microsoft would embolden EU regulators. Google is a bundler, too, by tying search and other services together with Chrome—and the company has a monopoly-size search share in Europe. When the next chapter of the European drama unfolds, many at Google may wish they had stood with Microsoft rather than against it.

While I appreciate Joe's sentiment—it's nice to think that U.S. companies might stick together in the face of European regulators—it's not the reality. Competition between Google and Microsoft is downright dog-eat-dog and Darwinian.

Microsoft, which has been roasted by U.S. regulators every bit as much as the European watchdogs, doesn't think twice about complaining about Google in search and advertising because it is an area where it is infinitely inferior to Google. Any little edge it can gain is a place.

Moreover, it's still doing so: According to Ad Age, Microsoft is an underwriter of a recent International Advertising Association survey concerning search-advertising competition, the Google-Yahoo deal and future attitudes about regulatory action.

Why would Google miss a chance to gouge Microsoft abroad over IE when Microsoft nary misses a chance to gouge Google over paid search at home? Just as Microsoft bows to Google in search, Google looks up at Microsoft's IE market share mountain. Turnabout is fair play.

I have no evidence Google is griping about IE in Europe, though it wouldn't surprise me and I fully expect it. Regulatory bodies would likely view complaints from a giant like Google with a grain of salt, much like they viewed Microsoft's gripes about Google. But it can't hurt to try.

I've asked Google for comment but don't expect to hear much on this front. I won't take offense; this clandestine competitive throat-cutting is fun to dish about. |

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