Google cleared of monopolistic concern by US Feds, Microsoft cries foul over YouTube app
Michelle Clancy | 04-01-2013

Google has been cleared by the Feds of any regulatory restraint following a two-year investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into potential antitrust behaviour in the area of search results, and whether the company unfairly stacks the deck when it comes to highlighting its own properties, like YouTube.

The Government may not see a monopoly situation, but Microsoft counters that "just last month we learned from YouTube that senior executives at Google told them not to enable a first-class YouTube experience on Windows Phones."

Google competitors, in particular Microsoft, have long alleged that the company-whose-name-is-now-a-verb has too much control over the ways of the Web. But this week the FTC found that there is sufficient competition MSFT, Yahoo!, AOL, etc. to give Web denizens choice in how they discover content, sites and applications.

Of particular concern is the fact that Google searches tend to return Google-favourable results near the top of the page, like offering YouTube results. This is an issue in Net neutrality should, say, the Google IPTV+broadband service in Kansas City show video results from competitors in favour of YouTube or its own IPTV content, but in the open Web, best-efforts world, the FTC saw the argument to be lacking.

"Google's primary reason for changing the look and feel of its search results to highlight its own products was to improve the user experience," said FTC Chairman Jon Liebowitz in the decision. Commissioner J Thomas Rosch added that "Google does not have monopoly or near-monopoly power in any conceivable relevant market related to the challenged practice."

The decision was based on a definable set of parameters: to be monopolistic, Google would have to be proved to be akin to a public utility, like local phone lines, which must make access available to competitors. As it is, Google was simply found to be good at what it does, laying down the gauntlet for the competition to navigate meaning that the FTC had no business, the argument goes, to regulate its search algorithms.

Google agreed to some voluntary measures, like licensing patents on "fair and reasonable" terms. It will also now let Web sites opt out of being listed in specialized search results, and will lessen restrictions on companies that want to advertise both on Google and Microsoft Bing.

Predictably, Microsoft was nonplussed, citing ongoing issues. Specifically, it alleges that Google continues to prevent Microsoft from offering consumers a fully featured YouTube app for the Windows Phone.

"You might think that Google would be on its best behaviour given it's under the bright lights of regulatory scrutiny on two continents ... However, as we enter 2013, that is not the case," said Dave Heiner, Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel, in a blog.

He added, "Unfortunately, Google has refused to allow Microsoft's new Windows Phones to access this YouTube metadata in the same way that Android phones and iPhones do. As a result, Microsoft's YouTube 'app' on Windows Phones is basically just a browser displaying YouTube's mobile website, without the rich functionality offered on competing phones. Microsoft is ready to release a high quality YouTube app for Windows Phone. We just need permission to access YouTube in the way that other phones already do; permission Google has refused to provide."

Heiner also explained that while the US has opted out of regulation, the European Commission has stated publicly that Google must address four areas of concern regarding its business practices, or else it will face action giving Microsoft hope that what it sees as an unfair practice would be addressed in at least one venue.

"We understand that the European Commission and Google are working toward a binding, enforceable legal order that would address these competition law concerns," Heiner noted.

"This is important not just for Microsoft, but for the thousands of smaller companies whose businesses depend on a competitive search marketplace," he added. "That is why so many companies have made their concerns about Google's misconduct known to regulators on both sides of the Atlantic."

He added: "We believed then, as we do now, that the future of competition in search is at stake in these investigations ... 2013 hopefully will be the year when antitrust enforcers display the resolve that Google continues to lack."