Saturday, October 23, 2021

Antitrust inquiry to force Microsoft to change its business practices

Microsoft faces an imminent antitrust battle with the European Union over its business practices, seven years after the ruling in a lawsuit dating back to its ground-breaking antitrust settlement with the United States.

The EU is investigating the company for three years over claims that it holds what the EU calls an “undue competitive advantage” over rivals in search and data-sharing. The EU’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said Thursday that the new accusations relate to issues concerning antitrust law, competition policy and competition law.

Microsoft, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., known as Google’s nemesis, claims to hold a monopoly over online searches with its search engine Bing, which it says generates three times more search queries than its nearest rival, according to a European Commission document published Thursday. It is also accused of “unfairly” blocking rivals that it claims to compete with Bing, the document said.

In addition, Microsoft has allegedly restricted rivals from using its data on a range of “entities and services” to create products and services.

The investigation is set to last for three years. If found guilty, Microsoft could be ordered to comply with all EU antitrust rules — including payments — and face heavy fines.

The case first surfaced in 2010 and was dismissed on procedural grounds last year, but the EU case team decided to press ahead with an inquiry after receiving information this year that it believes may raise questions of competition policy.

The EU has levelled its heaviest antitrust fines against Microsoft, penalizing it over $4 billion between 2004 and 2009 after it was found to have charged too much for licenses of its operating system software and to have tied certain bundled applications to its Windows software.

But the European Commission is also looking into more recent accusations against Microsoft, such as the reason behind its contract with Russia’s state-owned telecom provider and its accusations in last month’s antitrust complaints on data-sharing that Microsoft is toying with.

Microsoft has responded to the European Commission allegations by accusing the EU of seeking to use antitrust proceedings to resolve the regulatory roadblocks that it has faced on several subjects under successive German and Italian governments.

“The commission’s disproportionate re-litigation of past decision-making, regardless of the results, is a grave mistake,” the company said in a statement.

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