BRUSSELS – US computer giant Microsoft declared war on Internet king Google Thursday when it joined an anti-trust complaint in Europe that could result in billions of dollars in fines.
It is the first time Microsoft, which has itself been hit with multi-million-dollar anti-trust fines by Brussels, has gone public with submissions to European Union inspectors probing the online search giant.
"Microsoft is filing a formal complaint with the European Commission as part of the Commission?s ongoing investigation into whether Google has violated European competition law," read an online posting from Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel, Microsoft Corporation.
The move adds momentum to the probe against Google launched by EU regulators in November on accusations it has rigged the search market for consumers.
EU competition watchdogs are investigating whether Google is guilty of "unfavourable treatment" of rival search services providers and whether the company's own services -- including YouTube video, book-scanning or telephony -- are getting "preferential placement" in consumer searches.
The Commission has "taken note" of the complaint and will ask Google for a response, said Amelia Torres, spokeswoman for EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia.
Asked to comment, Google said the action was hardly surprising given a Microsoft subsidiary was one of the original complainants in the probe.
"For our part, we continue to discuss the case with the European Commission and we're happy to explain to anyone how our business works," Google spokesman Al Verney said.
The November inquiry launched by the Commission, the European Union's anti-trust regulator, into Google's pre-eminent position in search services and online advertising followed several complaints, including one from internet portal Ciao, purchased by Microsoft in 2008.
"We should be among the first to compliment Google for its genuine innovations," said Microsoft's Smith. "But we're concerned by a broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative."
Google refused to divulge its share of the search services market but the Commission reckons it has clinched 95 percent in Europe.
In the United States, Microsoft says it serves around 25 percent of search needs either directly through its Bing search engine or its partnership with Yahoo!.
Citing court action against Google practices in the United States, Smith said the situation "is worse in Europe."
Google was increasingly "walling off access to content and data that competitors need to provide search results to consumers and attract advertisers," he charged.
"Having spent more than a decade wearing the shoe on the other foot with the European Commission, the filing of a formal anti-trust complaint is not something we take lightly," he stressed.
He cited by way of example "technical measures" put in place on YouTube after its 2006 acquisition by Google to restrict competing search engines from proper access.
"Without proper access to YouTube, Bing and other search engines cannot stand with Google on an equal footing in returning search results with links to YouTube videos and that, of course, drives more users away from competitors and to Google," he said.