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June 29, 2021, 1:39 p.m. EDT

Microsoft’s shadowy presence in antitrust push is angering the rest of Big Tech

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By Jon Swartz

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See: Tech giants mount defense against House antitrust bills

Smith is a key strategist and frontman in Microsoft’s concerted campaign, and has effectively put the other four tech giants on their heels. For more than a year, Smith has publicly pointed figures at them, while making the case that the software giant is a good corporate citizen.

“When you create technology that changes the world, you have to assume a responsibility for the world that you’ve helped to create,” Smith told Nikkei in December 2020.

In April 2021, Smith renewed his attacks on Google over web content after urging antitrust bodies to review Apple’s App Store a year ago.

Shortly after the bills were introduced on June 11, Smith told Bloomberg three days later: “I think in many ways where this is going is a particular focus on technology platforms that serve as gatekeepers. In other words, they not only serve as a platform like an operating system, but people need to go through them to sell their commerce whether it’s a product that’s on Amazon or an app say in the Apple App Store or through a service like Google search. And I think that’s where we’re going to see more and more government focus.”

“Well, there are aspects of the legislation that was introduced in the house last week that absolutely applies to Microsoft and many other companies,” he later acknowledged to Bloomberg. “I think for all of us, it’s the time to step back, try to think broadly, look beyond ourselves and ask, what’s the right role of technology to serve the economy, our customers, the country, and the world?”

Additionally, Microsoft supports the European Union’s Digital Markets Act , which would require companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google with large numbers of customers to open their platforms to competitors such as Microsoft. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has argued the law would force Apple to permit side-loading apps on the iPhone, which is manually installing software from the internet or a file instead of through an app store. This, in turn, would wreak havoc on the privacy and security of consumers — not to mention expose them to ransomware and malware, he said. 

At least one defender of Microsoft — Gus Rossi, who leads tech policy and advocacy at Omidyar Network — said the criticisms conveniently overlook that Microsoft was subject to the “last relevant antitrust investigation” 30 years ago.

“Its rivals have never been exposed to the scrutiny that Microsoft experienced years ago, and now they are trying to adapt,” Rossi told MarketWatch. “They are reacting as Microsoft did in the ’90s. It not only survived, but is a smarter company, policy-wise.”

For its part, Microsoft insists it did not lobby to be excluded from the new antitrust package. “The bills as proposed extends to all operating systems. While this may encompass Windows, which has more than 50 million daily active users, it already operates as an open platform that provides broad choice and opportunity to developers and consumers today,” a Microsoft spokesperson told MarketWatch.

The Smith-led antitrust offensive has earned behind-the-scenes rebukes from the other four members of the Big Tech pantheon, prompting one Apple exec to observe deep antagonisms that now fester between the two companies. Microsoft is also at loggerheads with Amazon, whom it beat out in a bid for a $10 billion cloud-computing contract with the Pentagon in 2019. Amazon is fighting the awarded contract in court.

For more: Big Tech is turning on one another amid antitrust probes and litigation

Microsoft’s antitrust crusade has drawn incredulous responses from those who closely follow antitrust developments in the corridors of tech.

Microsoft hovered on the periphery of the Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple last month, with at least five witnesses with links to Microsoft testifying on behalf of Epic. That was as many witnesses as from Epic itself. What is more, Microsoft shielded itself from discovery in litigation by not appearing as a party or sending a corporate representative to testify. Lori Wright, vice president of business development at Microsoft, testified in a personal capacity.

Microsoft is not entirely free of antitrust concerns. In July 2020, Slack Technologies , a provider of chat software for businesses, filed a complaint against Microsoft in the European Union, alleging that the company’s bundling of rival product Microsoft Teams with the widely used Office suite of business software was an anticompetitive abuse of its market power. Slack has agreed to be acquired by Salesforce.com Inc. CRM for $27.7 billion.

This article has been updated.

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