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Microsoft Quietly Retreats From FairSearch, Watchdog Behind Google Antitrust Cases

Is Microsoft having an Ebenezer Scrooge conversion?

Przemyslaw Szablowski / Shutterstock

For years now, Google’s knee-jerk response to its frequent regulatory entanglements has been to point a finger north: It’s Microsoft’s fault!

For good reason. The Redmond software giant has actively stirred the pot in several legal cases against Google search, in both the U.S. and Europe, through its own lobbying and the dogged consumer advocacy group FairSearch.

Maybe not anymore.

In December, Microsoft quietly removed its financial support from FairSearch, an organization behind multiple legal threats to Google, including the pending one in the European Union.

“We routinely evaluate our participation in industry organizations and decided not to continue our membership in FairSearch,” a Microsoft spokesman said.

Thomas Vinje, a rep for FairSearch, said: “While we appreciate Microsoft’s contribution while a member, the work of our coalition continues unabated.”

Microsoft joined FairSearch shortly after the group’s founding in 2010. Since then, the consumer organization, a reliable attack dog on competition issues involving Google, has often been described as a front group for the software company that makes perennial second-place search engine Bing.

Recently, Microsoft’s policy efforts have focused more on data security and privacy issues, such as the heated Safe Harbor ruling in the EU. Its severance from FairSearch may indicate new lobbying priorities, or even warming ties between the once very bitter rivals. In Europe, at least, more of the legal pressure on Google has come from the German media and telecom than from Microsoft.

Clearly the change shows a softer posture from Microsoft. Three years ago, the company launched its infamous “Scroogled” holiday ad campaign that targeted Google for its shopping ads — and kicked dirt in Google’s eyes for two years. Even today, the public assault, orchestrated by former Clinton aide Mark Penn, leaves Mountain View bitter.

In some ways, Microsoft’s withdrawal from the group is a blow to Google, as it can no longer pin its troubles on a big competitor. Still, Google has no shortage of foes ready to call its search engine a monopoly: FairSearch is backed by several European and U.S. companies, including Oracle, Expedia and TripAdvisor. That said, the group has lost one of its more prominent financial backers — a boost for Google.

FairSearch is a formal complainant active* in the existing European Union antitrust case charging Google for abusing its search position in its shopping product, as well as a complainant in the EU investigation into Android.

While it may be spending less to go after Google, Microsoft isn’t fully out of the game. It remains a formal complainant in the EU shopping antitrust case, which Microsoft entered in 2011.

For old time’s sake, here’s one of the Scroogled ads from 2013, this one going after Gmail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI1ominSL_c

*Update: While several FairSearch members are formal complainants in the EU case against Google shopping, the organization itself is not one.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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