Google, Microsoft Feud Over Antitrust, Hacking Issues

Microsoft and Google have traded barbs as both companies blame the other for large-scale problems.

Google, along with Facebook and other online giants, is currently under pressure from governments and regulators in the Australia, the EU, the US and elsewhere over its relationship with media organisations and news outlets.

Microsoft has taken the opportunity to criticise Google and to advise tougher regulations targeting the company.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Friday, Microsoft president Brad Smith continued this line of argument, telling lawmakers that journalistic outlets have been forced to “use Google’s tools, operate on Google’s ad exchanges, contribute data to Google’s operations, and pay Google money”.

Ad dominance

Smith said that while referral traffic from Google has real value to news outlets, it is difficult for them to make money from that traffic because “most of the profit has been squeezed out by Google”, according to a written version of his remarks.

Smith cited Pew Research figures showing that US newspaper ad revenues declined from $49.4 billion (£35bn) in 2005 to $14.3bn in 2018, while Google’s ad revenues grew from $6.1bn to $116bn in the same period.

Microsoft and Google recently sparred in Australia, as the country’s government prepared to pass a law that would force online platforms to pay news outlets for their traffic.

As Google threatened to pull out of the country over the law, Microsoft supported the government’s actions and said it was ready to follow the new rules and take Google’s place with its Bing search engine.

Australia finally passed a version of the law modified to remove some of its stricter provisions, while Facebook and Google both cut payment deals with news publishers.

Smith on Friday said he supported a similar law in the US, called the Journalism Competition and Protection Act.

Security breaches

Google lost no time in levelling its own criticisms at Microsoft, accusing the company of trying to divert attention away from two major hacking campaigns in which the software company was directly involved.

In the first, the hacking group behind last year’s SolarWinds breach used that campaign to invade Microsoft’s systems and attack some of its customers.

And earlier this month a different state-backed hacking group used previously undiscovered flaws in Microsoft Exchange to target organisations around the world, with the same flaws later being exploited by a score of other attack groups, as well as criminal gangs.

Google argued Microsoft’s “newfound interest in attacking us comes on the heels of the SolarWinds attack and at a moment when they’ve allowed tens of thousands of their customers — including government agencies in the US, NATO allies, banks, nonprofits, telecommunications providers, public utilities, police, fire and rescue units, hospitals and, presumably, news organisations — to be actively hacked via major Microsoft vulnerabilities”.

Google senior vice president for global affairs Kent Walker also said Microsoft’s take on Google’s relationship with news organisations was wrong.

“We look forward to continuing to engage with regulators and news publishers to ensure a thriving and healthy publishing industry,” Walker said in a blog post.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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