Yesterday, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came to a conclusion regarding the +Google
antitrust investigation. To be clear, it was not a win for Google or a loss for Microsoft/+FairSearch.org
. Instead, the findings of the FTC were a triumphant win for choice, innovation and justice.
In summary, the FTC has closed its investigation on Google after approximately 20 months of thoroughly investigating Google's business and found that Google is not an anticompetitive, monopolistic power that brings harms to consumers.
The press release from the FTC can be found at http://ftc.gov/opa/2013/01/google.shtm
Of course, not everyone is happy, namely Microsoft, perhaps the most outspoken of technology companies to accuse Google of anticompetitive practices. Dave Heiner, Microsoft's Vice President and Deputy General Counsel took to a long blog post
to describe why Microsoft is not content with what the FTC has found. He forgets that Microsoft/Bing does some of the same things it accuses Google of doing, and mentions a few points that lack evidence or are incorrect.
Microsoft's Heiner has this to say about "data portability:"
For years Google has publicly championed the virtues of "data portability" - the idea that customers ought to be able to use their own data in products from various companies. But in practice, Google effectively prohibited its primary paying customers (advertisers) from using data about their own advertising campaigns on any ad platform other than Google's.
That, however, is simply untrue. Yes, Google does have a strong belief on data portability, as its Data Liberation Front
has shown. Google states that "Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google's products" and it is one of the only companies to have such a location for easily and quickly exporting data out of Google.
One of the topics in the Data Liberation Front is "AdWords," and shows users how to export any ad campaign. As Google notes, "Advertisers can already export their ad campaigns
from Google AdWords." There is even a lovely video to help anyone who does not understand.
Similarly, that is all Microsoft's Bing allows you to do as well, as shown in this help page
. There is not even a helpful video to guide the user, or any other option other than CSV. Google also announced yesterday that in response to the FTC, they will voluntarily
enable advertisers to "mix and copy ad campaign data within third-party services that use [Google's] AdWords API." So where's the problem here, Microsoft?
Microsoft's Heiner spent two lengthy paragraphs outlining the problem and detailing how Microsoft would have remedied the problem. But wait, Microsoft restricts exports to the same exact thing as Google, and now less than.
There is also a blurb about "standard essential patents," or those patents that are so essential to standard technological innovations that they should be licensed fairly to everyone. Google, when purchasing Motorola, also continued the ongoing litigation disputes with Microsoft, Apple and others, "seeking to block Microsoft and others from shipping Windows-based PCs and Xboxes that implement the relevant standards," as Heiner notes in the blog.
As we all know, 2012 was the year of patents. The American patent system is severely in need of reform, and Google had to do anything and everything it could to defend itself and the vibrant Android ecosystem. Google has been one of the most outspoken companies regarding patent reform, but what could it do when laws were not changed and the issue not address? Take matters into its own hands and use the patents it did have to the best of its ability.
When Apple can sue Android and other manufacturers on the grounds that pinch-to-zoom uses two fingers or a phone has a rectangular, 4-inch design, Google should be able to do anything and everything it can to protect itself. Microsoft did something similar to Apple, and asked (and continues to ask) manufacturers for extremely high royalties, just because. Google is merely "bleeding out" until the issue is confronted. Yet, the whole story is never disclosed from Microsoft or Apple's perspective. Though those used by Apple and Microsoft may not be "standard essential patents," the relevant patents were basic, and some have even been recalled by the respective patent offices.
YouTube-Windows Phone App
Windows Phone has gotten off to a rough start in the mobile industry dominated by +Android
and iOS devices, sheerly because of both platform's robust innovation (and the lack of on Windows Phone). Despite the Microsoft campaigns to criticize Google instead of focusing on the actual Microsoft product, it has continued to use it as an opportunity to out Google as anti-competitive, which is simply not true (and quite obvious).
Windows Phone has one of the lowest market shares in the industry, only in the single-digit area compared to Android and iOS's commanding double-digit lead. For the most up-to-date research, one only needs to enter a simple search query on your preferred search engine. Similarly, the Windows Store of apps only boasts 150,000 applications, compared to Android and iOS's 700,000 count.
As any regular person should know, there are many things that need to get done in life. Each person has to allocate valuable time and resources into the most meaningful activities. Technology companies must do the same thing. That explains why Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all have no native applications for Windows Phone (except for the Facebook/Twitter apps that Microsoft built).
Yet, Microsoft is painting the absence of the YouTube app as a severe antitrust violation of Google, stating that "Google continues to prevent Microsoft from offering a high-quality YouTube app for Windows Phone." Though a large company, Google still has limited
money, resources and time. It must allocate how to build apps and services in a manner that creates a great user experience, allows the most consumers to benefit, while also allowing Google to remain a profitable company (that's how the services continue to operate). Google is not, and should no way be under any obligation to build apps for every single operating system available on the market, or give up its own data so that others can build the app for them - that simply is impossible and unrealistic, as I explain in my Google+ post
. Google's goal has always been "to be present on all major platforms and we [Google] want to offer the best possible experience." (Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps for Mobile).
Google also states that YouTube is available on Windows Phone, contrary to Microsoft's statement, via the HTML5-based mobile website, which includes HQ video and all the features that are present in any YouTube app. They also claim they've worked directly
with Microsoft to build a great YouTube experience on Windows. In the end, Google does not benefit by excluding users from accessing YouTube anyways, see the linked post
Heiner also asserts that "Google routinely and systematically heavily promotes its own services in search results." However, the only instances Google does that is when its technology can find a quick answer. As Google states, a "truly great search is all about turning your needs into actions in the blink of an eye." Studies have shown that speed increases satisfaction when it comes to technology, and Google, like any other company, is focused on consumer satisfaction.
Even if that still does not convince you of its effectiveness, Microsoft's Bing and other search engines have implemented what Google has done; they promote their own services, as +Search Engine Land
has pointed out in this article
(as well as the FTC in their press conference, stating that "Google's search engine rivals engaged in many of the same product design choices that Google did, suggesting that this practice can benefit consumers"
). Search Engine Land visualizes what this exactly means
Search Engine Land continues,
That's [above] a side-by-side comparison I [Search Engine Land] did of how Google (on the left) and Bing (on the right) both 'favor' themselves in various ways... Pick your search, and you can find Bing or Yahoo 'favoring' themselves in all the same ways that Google is accused of.
So Microsoft's point is invalid - it's an industry standard, and is obviously proven to improve the quality of search results for consumers.
But then, Heiner continues his harassment by stating, "Is Google+ really more relevant than Facebook?" Presumably, this is an allusion to Google's inclusion of information from its own properties into its organic search engine, as part of its effort in Universal and social search, also dubbed Search, Plus Your World
. That may be a valid point, but really is not valid at all. For one, no one can judge the relevance of a search engine, except for the creator. If the quality of the search engine is poor, users will automatically leave. Any other individual has a biased view on the "relevance" of a search engine. Secondly, the reason Facebook (and Twitter) information are not included in the search results actually links back to Facebook and Twitter themselves. Both (Facebook to a larger degree) are walled gardens and have not given Google explicit permission
to be included in the search result, as +Eric Schmidt
once explained in this video.
Google commented specifically on Twitter when the microblog criticized Google's "Search, Plus Your World" after their agreement giving Google access to Twitter's public tweets expired. Google stated that they were "a bit surprised by Twitter's comments, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us [Google] last summer... sine then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions." That is code that prevents search engines from following links, as Mashable details in this article
As Schmidt and Google have expressed, they'd like and be happy to include information from Facebook and other sites in their universal search engine. That is simply not possible at this time.
Google's mission is to "organize the world's
information," not to organize information on Google only.
Heiner is not done yet. He continues to try and (unsuccessfully) deal a blow to Google by bringing up shopping, asserting that "Google ranks shopping results (the most important category commercially) in part on the basis of how much advertisers pay
Google for placement, after very publicly promising that it would never do so. This does not sound like product improvement."
Wait for it. Microsoft does the exact same thing
. Once again, Search Engine Land has an article
detailing Microsoft's pure anti-Google campaign, ignoring the fact that it has the same practices. The article goes so far as to say "Bing is hardly in a position to be lecturing Google about poor disclosure and charging for listings, when it has the same issues."
In fact, Microsoft is even more deceptive when it comes to this issue, as Search Engine Land notes.
The key difference is that Google's results have a 'Sponsored' disclaimer over it, one that even expands with more information if you hover over the label (though few likely do this). Bing has no such disclaimer, despite the fact that some of its listings come through merchants paying to appear."
All three accusations of Google biasing search results have seen Microsoft and Bing do the exact same thing, even going so far as to outright copy what Google does. Heiner and Co. should work on gathering the right facts to ensure they don't do the same thing it accuses others of doing it. How can Microsoft say it is immoral if they commit to the same things?
The True Intent of Microsoft and FairSearch
As Earl Warren once said, "The focus of our law is on protecting competition, not competitors
." Microsoft, and the rest of FairSearch have tried to use regulators to stop Google's success. Google became an integral part of the Internet because consumers chose to use it
, and continue to find it valuable, not because they were forced. Competition is a click away, and the Internet remains the ultimate level playing field.
Ironically, at the time of writing this post, the only comments on the blog from Microsoft's Heiner were those negatively directed at Microsoft, not Google.
Ricardo, on the Microsoft blog had this to say.
I actually didn't know about this whole deal with Google and FTC, and as I read more about it, it became quite blatant that the whole thing was schemed by Microsoft... That's a shady move, wasting government money on a dead end investing just to stifle competition... Anyway, now that I'm aware of your practices, I won't take the bait anymore, and in my company, what has windows already, will stay as it is, and will take a look on what the competition has to offer. You lost a customer today, not by the merit of the competition, but by your practices...
Gaurav states something similar.
Microsoft never did anything useful and stole or bought technology from others. Now you are crying fowl when you agree not capable of innovation. In the long run no one ever won with scheming and cheating. Grow up MS and learn to improve your own products else consumers would just leave you in totality...
Donal McIntyre also comes to the defense of Google.
Google didn't have to modify its practices in search because there was nothing to modify. One thing is to use anti-trust law to protect the public from monopolistic practices and another to protect competitors offering worse products and services. Anti trust is not to protect losing rivals its to protect consumers. ONLY anti-trust may be used to favor competitors if that leads to better products at lower prices. For now Google is offering the best search products at the best prices (zero $).
ReadWriteWeb, on its own article
, even called Microsoft's failure to convince antitrust regulators to take action against Google as "the biggest disappointment in Microsoft's history."
After a 19-month investigation and despite much prodding from Microsoft, the Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Google that basically amounts to a slap on the wrist.
This is a crushing blow to Microsoft, which has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and phony grassroots groups over the past several years hoping to land Google in hot water.
Indeed, Microsoft's obsession with Google doesn't just border on crazy. It is crazy, and not just a little tiny bit crazy but full-blown, bunny-boiling, Ahab-versus-the-whale nutso.
...here in the States, the whole campaign is starting to look not just evil but also ridiculous and even pathetic, a failed crusade that smacks of revenge and failure and sad psychodrama.
Perhaps the ending to the article is the best.
Microsoft has spent the past 10 years missing out on every big new trend - search, social, mobile. Instead of looking inward and trying to fix its own problems, Microsoft has become ever more obsessed with Google.
The crusade extends to PR as well. Last year Microsoft hired Mark Penn, the pollster and PR guy who led Hillary Clinton's 2008 train wreck of a campaign. Penn's mission is to create smear campaigns about Google. One of his big brainstorms was the "Scroogled" campaign which tried to persuade people that Google's search results are tainted by advertising... it even created a site, scroogled.com, and urged people to complain about Google on Facebook.
Then came the "Droid Rage" ploy, where Microsoft used its Windows Phone account on Twitter to ask Android users to send in Android malware stories to win a prize. The campaign backfired when Android fans used the hashtag to mock Microsoft.
Going negative might work in politics, but when you're selling products it's probably wiser to tout the virtues of your own product. The risk Microsoft is taking is that by howling about Google, Microsoft starts to look like a company that can no longer compete, a desperate dinosaur that has toppled into a tar pit... Keep up the great work, Microsoft.
That article summarized everything so perfectly there really is nothing else to say.
Google's Statement Regarding the FTC's Findings
Larry and Sergey founded Google because they believed that building a great search experience would improve people's lives. And in the decade-plus that's followed, Google has worked hard to make it quicker and easier for users to find what they need. In the early days you would type in a query, we'd return 10 blue links and you'd have to click on them individually to find what you wanted. Today we can save you the hassle by providing direct answers to your questions, as well as links to other sites. So if you type in [weather in san francisco], or [tom hanks movies], we now give you the answer right from the results page - because truly great search is all about turning your needs into actions in the blink of an eye.
Their full post on their blog can be found here
The announcement by the FTC is welcomed, and allows Google to re-focus all of its operations back on the user. Microsoft can continue to attempt portraying Google as an evil company, but consumers will be smarter than to just accept that view. Information is available everywhere now for consumers to research, thanks to the power of your preferred search engine.