If you can’t beat ‘em, convince your friendly government regulators to investigate ‘em for anticompetitive practices: that’s a tried-and-true strategy in the technology world, where the largest IT companies pay enormous sums in order to court lawmakers. It’s certainly a strategy embraced by FairSearch.org, which filed a complaint against Google with the European Commission, the European Union’s antitrust body.
FairSearch.org’s members include Oracle, Nokia, Microsoft, and a host of Websites (Expedia, Hotwire, Kayak, and SideStep). All of these entities compete with Google in some aspect of their business. The group’s complaint to the European Commission centers on Android, which runs on the majority of smartphones shipped in 2012.
“Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data,” Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel to the FairSearch coalition, wrote in an April 9 statement. “We are asking the Commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market. Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google’s Android operating system.”
Microsoft and Nokia, of course, have a competing mobile operating system in Windows Phone. Oracle faces a challenge in Google’s rising interest in Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and enterprise software offerings. As for all those Websites such as Hotwire and Kayak, well, they face an existential challenge from Google assets such as Flight Search and Frommer’s.
But that’s not to say that the European Commission is in the pocket of any of these companies. After all, the regulatory body just smacked Microsoft with a hefty fine (the Euro equivalent of $732 million) over what it termed “non-compliance with browser choice commitments.” Microsoft took responsibility for the issue, which centered on an interstitial screen that allowed Windows users in the European Union to select the browser of their choice; when a supposed “technical error” prevented that screen from automatically deploying for more than a year, the European Commission brought the hammer down.
While companies fear regulators, the latter can present the best (and sometimes last) hope for changing the game-board. Windows Phone lags well behind Android with regard to adoption; with the exception of Nokia, which all but dropped its homegrown operating systems such as Symbian in favor of Microsoft’s software, most Windows Phone manufacturers also maintain a healthy portfolio of Android devices. At least in theory, heavy regulatory blows against Google could persuade some of those manufacturers to more fully throw advertising and production weight behind an alternative platform.
At this point, however, that’s pure conjecture. In the unending battle between Google and its rivals, appealing to regulators is just another arrow in the proverbial quiver. And even if Microsoft and its partners manage to ding the search engine giant, most of them still have a significant problem: Apple, the other 800-pound gorilla in the mobile space, which isn’t exactly a company known for backing down from fights.