Google slams Microsoft for trying ‘to break the way the open web works’

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google and Microsoft engineers might collaborate on the Chromium browser code, but that hasn’t stopped corporate politics between the pair. Google has launched a scathing attack on Microsoft today, accusing it of trying “to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival.”

Google is upset about what it believes is an attack by Microsoft to undermine the company’s efforts to support journalism and publishers. In January, Google threatened to remove its search engine from Australia, in response to a law that would force Google to pay news publishers for their content. Australia passed the law in February, just days after Google caved and cut a deal with News Corp. and other publishers that ensured its services continue to be available in Australia. (Facebook, on the other hand, did remove the ability for users and publishers to share news content in the country, which earned some concessions from the Australian government.)

In the middle of all of this, Microsoft was very public about its support of Australia’s new law, and it even teamed up with European publishers to call for online platforms to reach deals to pay news outlets for content. Google isn’t happy about Microsoft getting involved and this is the first big public spat we’ve seen since the Scroogled era.

“They are now making self-serving claims and are even willing to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival,” says Kent Walker, Google’s head of global affairs, in a blog post. “This latest attack marks a return to Microsoft’s longtime practices. Walker links to the Wikipedia entry for Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), and accuses Microsoft of muddying the waters to distract from recent security issues.

“It’s no coincidence that 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 ... to be actively hacked via major Microsoft vulnerabilities,” says Walker. “Microsoft was warned about the vulnerabilities in their system, knew they were being exploited, and are now doing damage control while their customers scramble to pick up the pieces from what has been dubbed the Great Email Robbery. So maybe it’s not surprising to see them dusting off the old diversionary Scroogled playbook.”

Microsoft’s old Scroogled ads.

This unusual attack from Google also comes just as the House Judiciary Committee looks at the antitrust and commercial aspects of competition for a free and diverse press. Google argues it doesn’t make money from Google News, but Microsoft argues it’s a lot more complicated and involves Google Search ads, ad tech business, ad exchange, ad tech tools, and Google’s overall consumer dataset.

“News organizations have ad inventory to sell, but they can no longer sell directly to those who want to place ads,” says Microsoft president Brad Smith. “Instead, for all practical purposes they must use Google’s tools, operate on Google’s ad exchanges, contribute data to Google’s operations, and pay Google money. All this impacts the ability of news organizations to benefit economically even from advertising on their own sites.”

Google and Microsoft are clearly at odds over the core argument of whether publishers should have more control over a digital ad industry dominated by the search giant and Facebook. Microsoft wants Congress to move forward with the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and “enable news organizations to negotiate collectively with online content distributors.”

Google, on the other hand, believes its Google News Initiative, where it tries to collaborate with the news industry, is enough to help news organizations. While Microsoft and Google battle in a war of words, the House Judiciary Committee is meeting today to hear less scathing arguments about the future of the press in a digital era.


To hear Google tell it, I’m sure they’re just trying to act in the best interest of the people. The problem is, they’re trying to tell the people what’s in their best interest. As far as I’m concerned, they could bust up big tech and we’d probably all be better off for it.

They are acting in the best interest of the web. Google has always been very supportive of the web as that is where they make much of their money (nothing wrong with doing the right thing where it helps the bottom line).

Speaking of contributions to the web, I enjoy how the article opens with MS and Google "collaborating" on the Chromium browser code. Great, this is the new MS – they might be undermining the web (according to tim berners lee) by siding with News Crop in Aus, but at least they gave us Chromium (/s).

Uh… Did you forget about AMP? Their most direct attempt to take control over the open web and mold it to their specifications?

Google is calling the kettle black here at best.

Amp is an open standard that anyone can host and develop.

They are acting in the best interest of the web.

Well, you’ve drank the Kool-Aid. Google acts in the best interest of Google.

they could bust up big tech and we’d probably all be better off for it.

Agree… but this definitely isn’t black and white.

Google accuse Microsoft of trying to "break the way the open web works"… but… I think the way the open web is supposed to work may already be broken.

Sure I can make any content I want available on the web, but if I want to participate in the web economy (which is what we’re actually talking about here) I’m beholden to a handful of tech giants that hold all the power.

On the flip-side, I’m not sure feeding extra $$$ into traditional main stream media organizations actually solves anything.

I haven’t been able to process the business about paying news publishers for content. I understand the notion there, but as a longtime user of what are called news aggregators, I can see the sense of content creators or publishers paying distributors, or at least making material available at no cost just for the enormous convenience and advantage of putting it in front of a large audience, (along with the ads they tuck into their product). As other commenters have noted, the issue today is revenue, but that will ultimately lead to editorial control. We already see some of that in certain political demographics, (can you say FOX?), whose ratings move with the amount of outrage they can generate. Truth is a dispensable commodity in this.

Yeah, screw Microsoft for breaking the open web. Look at what they did with AMP, coercing companies into routing traffic through their own servers. Or buying up all sorts of independent ad companies so that no matter where you go, you’re seeing Microsoft ads. Or when they gimped IMAP support in MMail or DAV support in Microsoft Calendar to force app makers to use their proprietary API? Or how about when they pushed WebRTC long before it was finalized so that many websites still had to require Chrome even after all browsers supported it because the API changed so heavily?

Hang on, wait a sec…



Cherry on top of this beautiful comment

…or ActiveX. That screwedup the browser world for two decades.

Yeah, I do not take Microsoft side here at all. They stagnated the web with IE for at least a decade.

Google has its problems but it has pushed the open web more than any other company. Even amp is an open protocol anyone can host and develop. The evolution of amp actually could be super interesting allowing anyone to host someone else’s content in a cryptographically secure way.

Thank God Google pushed webrtc or it might still be in the drawing board.

And meanwhile Microsoft is using Google’s work on Chrome to push their Edge browser. And don’t forget their Advertising ID in Windows 10.

Not chrome, Chromium open sourced project. A project that MS has been contributing to for two years now, and already became the second biggest contributor.

Point of being open sourced is anyone can use it. And anyone can contribute. Chromium itself was forked off of Webkit which itself was from KHTML in KDE Linux.

Yes, but the bulk of the browser was originally developed by Google. You know that.
Microsoft jumped on board when their own Edge project failed to gain decent traction.

The bulk of the browser (the blink browser engine) is built on the webkit project, which was developed by Apple, as a fork of the KHTML project.

The whole purpose of open source development is that it is collaborative & builds on what came before it. To try & argue about who "originally developed" what is fundamentally missing the point.

The bulk of a "subengine"…

And meanwhile Microsoft is using Google’s work on Chrome to push their Edge browser.

You say that like utilising, and then heavily contributing back to an open source project is a bad thing?

Maybe it will surprise you but… that’s kind of the point in creating an open source project in the first place!

I have no idea where your head was at on this one… but it’s definitely not on straight.

See the above comment. Chrome was started by Google. MS failed at their own Edge so just jumped on the work that Google started….to compete with them.

The engine that made Chrome was started by the KDE project and initially forked by Apple for Safari. Google has no more claim to the engine than Apple, or Microsoft does. It’s a Ship of Theseus situation where really no one can claim authorship without acknowledging their predecessors. But to say Chrome was "started" by Google ignores literally the entire history of the engine.

Ok… so you don’t understand how open source works. That explains a lot!

To be fair, ActiveX is a somewhat different beast, and it had its place in history. ActiveX was often used to achieve a bunch of things not natively supported in a browser, just like Flash. The problem is developers abusing ActiveX and not moving on when more modern tech stacks are available, which is more like a legacy issue.

The comment talks about a bunch of different things. I am ok with companies experimenting with new things and creating properitary technology, as long as they do not force you to use them. If Google wants to create this thing called AMP and make it opt-in, I’m totally fine. But it changes when Google says your website shows up higher in the search result if it uses AMP. Same thing with Calendar. If Google wants to create a bunch of their own APIs to support new features, fine, but removing existing APIs for basic functionalities is a no-no.

Apple did some of this sh*t as well. Their "special events" used to be only on their website which can be streamed only with Safari on MacOS or iOS (and weirdly enough by the now "legacy Edge" as well). They finally came to their senses and support all mainstream browsers, and provide a Youtube stream as well.

Apple did some of this sh*t as well. Their "special events" used to be only on their website which can be streamed only with Safari on MacOS or iOS (and weirdly enough by the now "legacy Edge" as well).

You can hardly place Apple’s actions here in the same category. They’re not under any obligation to stream their events over the open web. Indeed, by getting fewer eyeballs by restricting it to their own platforms, they arguably hurt themselves more than anything else. But that’s their business, entirely up to them how they run that show…

One wrong doesn’t forgive the other. We can criticize both the pot and the kettle.

Or how they crippled Windows Phone by the making none of their apps available to the platform or even letting Microsoft build their own apps using open APIs.

Google is under no obligation to build apps for any platform. As a private company, they’re free to invest their time and money in whatever way they see fit. To argue otherwise just shows a fierce sense of entitlement.

Windows Phone died for lack of apps, but nobody would’ve made a purchasing decision on the basis of there being no Youtube app. After all, you could still access it via web browser.

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