The Federal Trade Commission's slap on Google's wrist was wrong-headed, an abdication of responsibility, and will ultimately harm businesses and consumers -- so says Microsoft. In a blog posted shortly after the FTC decision, Microsoft takes the feds to task and warns that the decision will only embolden Google.
Dave Heiner, Microsoft Vice President & Deputy General Counsel blogged about the decision in his post The FTC and Google: A Missed Opportunity. Although couched in polite lawyer-talk, if you look beneath the surface, you'll see that he pulls no punches about what he clearly believes was a failure on the FTC's part. He starts off by summing up:
"We find it troubling that the agency did not adhere to its own standard procedures that call for the agency to obtain industry input on proposed relief and secure it through an enforceable consent decree. The FTC's overall resolution of this matter is weak and -- frankly -- unusual. We are concerned that the FTC may not have obtained adequate relief even on the few subjects that Google has agreed to address."
To you or me that might not sound like a particularly harsh criticism. But to lawyers, they're fighting words.
One of his major complaints is about data portability, what he calls "the idea that customers ought to be able to use their own data in products from various companies." He claims that even though Google "has publicly championed" data portability, in practice it violates its promises and makes it difficult for companies to run ad campaigns with companies other than Google -- notably Microsoft and Bing. He concludes:" "Google's promise on ad campaign portability falls short of the mark in various ways."
Heiner claims that the FTC concluded that "Google has abused its standard essential patents" related to Android. But he warns that no real action was taken to ensure that Google won't continue to abusing them.
He was particularly miffed that Google can continue to block Microsoft from developing a fully-blown Windows Phone 8 app for YouTube. In a previous blog he claimed that Google won't give Microsoft access to metadata required for developing a fully functional app, even though it provides that data to Android developers and Apple for an iOS YouTube app. The FTC in its action didn't require that the metadata be provided.
Heiner has other complaints as well, largely related to search bias, that Google favors search results leading to its own services rather than services of competitors.
There's no doubt that the FTC decision was a victory for Google. And so it's no surprise that Microsoft would be miffed, particularly because the U.S. Justice Department's anti-trust actions against Microsoft in the 1990s seriously hurt the company.
But even though the FTC action sounds like a weak one, a number of people believe it may eventually hamstring Google. Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, told Computerworld:
"Google has consented to change their practices and they will need to open themselves to reporting and analysis to the FTC. This is no light matter. Just ask Microsoft. Lawyers will now have a better seat at Google, and they will be involved in every major decision."
His comments were echoed by David Farber, who is a former chief technology for the FTC, testified for the government in the 1990s-era case against Microsoft, and is a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. He told the New York Times:
"There's a long track record of government never really going away. They will come back."
If so, Microsoft will be there, prodding them on their way, as Heiner's blog shows.