Microsoft has been sending out mixed messages about its antitrust stance against Google's swallow of online ad broker DoubleClick.
Reuters reports that Jean-Philippe Courtois, head of Microsoft International, said in Paris yesterday: "The question is not for Microsoft to have specific views... as in all markets, it is for the regulator to see if the competition is right."*
But only last week, at a Senate hearing on the $3.1bn merger, Redmond's top legal gunslinger Brad Smith gave a different line. He told politicos: "If Google and DoubleClick are allowed to merge, Google will become the overwhelmingly dominant pipeline for all forms of online advertising." This would definitely "be bad" for just about everyone, he insisted.
It's like the left hand doesn't know what the French hand is doing. We rang Microsoft to ask who's right and who's wrong. It told us that Smith's testimony is still the party position on the acquisition, and there was no official softening of opposition to the tie-up.
Soon after missing out in the DoubleClick auction, Microsoft bought aQuantive for $6bn and put its management team in charge of its future in the advertising racket. That deal has already been waved through by the Federal Trade Commission, but Google-DoubleClick remains under consideration.
As part of his Grande Tour of Europe this week, Microsoft CEO and militant furniture aesthete Steve Ballmer has been talking up his firm's own ability to pump web users for marketing dollars. He predicted that within a few years, 25 per cent of Microsoft's revenues would come from adverts. "Even the basic software that we've delivered for so many years - if it can be ad-funded in the way it gets delivered to consumers, it probably will be ad-funded," he said, according to the International Herald Tribune. ®
*Is it safe to assume Microsoft doesn't intend to appeal against the recent European Court antitrust decision against it then? Perhaps not.