Microsoft has taken the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to task for its recent Google antitrust investigation decision. In a statement, the software giant called the lenient ruling in the case "weak" and "a missed opportunity" to halt what it described as Google's "ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace."
"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," wrote Dave Heiner, Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel, in a blog post late Thursday.
The FTC announced a settlement with Google Thursday following a 19-month antitrust investigation into the company's advertising business practices, including charges of search engine bias and manipulation and its alleged use of industry-standard patents against competitors.
The FTC found Google did not engage in antitrust practices, and the agency approved a number of restrictions Google said it would voluntarily adopt. Those included offering more options for websites to work with Google services without threat of penalisation in Google's general search results. Advertisers can also mix and copy ad campaign data within third-party services using the Google AdWords API.
The FTC also ordered Google to return to "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" practices relating to patents the company acquired when it bought Motorola.
The view among industry observers is that the ruling leaves Google largely unscathed. And Heiner's blog post criticises the FTC for what Microsoft sees as the agency's inaction.
"The FTC took steps today to address some of Google's improper business practices," Heiner wrote. "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."
An FTC spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on Microsoft's statement.
On Google's alleged abuse of "standard essential patents," Microsoft's Heiner wrote that the FTC's consent decree "accepted less relief from Google" than the DoJ obtained from Microsoft, Apple and other companies in similar cases.
"During patent licensing negotiations, Google can continue to threaten that it will sue for an injunction, knowing that many would-be licensees will not be in a position to engage in litigation or arbitration with Google and also meet all of the other procedural requirements set forth in the decree that are imposed on the licensee," the Microsoft executive wrote.
"Google can even continue to use its standard essential patents to fend off patent infringement actions against it: the proposed decree gives Google leeway to sue for an injunction on its standard essential patents if it takes the position that injunctive relief sought against it is based on a patent that is standard essential."
Heiner said the portion of the settlement related to data portability "falls short of the mark" in several ways, such as not explicitly requiring that Google allow advertisers to port ad campaign data to other ad platforms.
"We are puzzled and concerned that the FTC did not follow its standard practice in exercising due diligence by obtaining feedback from the industry on the specific terms of Google’s promise before accepting it as a suitable resolution of this matter," Heiner wrote.
The Microsoft counsel also expressed disappointment that the FTC ruling did not cover other issues, including alleged search bias issues and what it said is Google's refusal to allow Microsoft to offer "a high-quality YouTube app for the Windows Phone".
Heiner pointed to Google's upbeat public statements following the FTC announcement as evidence that "Google will be emboldened" by the decision, saying "Google seems to be walking with a new spring in its step today.
"There appears to be no reason, despite the FTC's optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognises its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace," Heiner said.
The Microsoft counsel noted that other antitrust agencies in the U.S. and in Europe "are still examining Google's conduct."