Microsoft Raises Antitrust Stink About Google Blocking YouTube App

Google and Microsoft are at it again over YouTube on Windows Phone.

Google has, once again, revoked YouTube access to Microsoft over its app for Windows Phone. Google denied access of the YouTube application programming interface to Windows Phone yesterday after the companies supposedly worked together to build a new version of the app after Google complained that Microsoft was violating YouTube’s terms of service when it published its own YouTube app in May.

If you have not been keeping up with this saga, here is how it went down: Microsoft published a YouTube app that it had built for Windows Phone. Microsoft had reversed engineered the YouTube API and built an app that violated certain YouTube developer terms of service, including stripping of pre-roll ads (that help pay YouTube video makers) and allowing downloads of video.

Google issued a complaint to Microsoft over the Windows Phone YouTube app and Microsoft agreed to take it down. 

In a joint statement later in May, Microsoft and Google agreed to work together to build a new app compliant with YouTube’s terms of service:

Microsoft and YouTube are working together to update the new YouTube for Windows Phone app to enable compliance with YouTube’s API terms of service, including enabling ads, in the coming weeks. Microsoft will replace the existing YouTube app in Windows Phone Store with the previous version during this time.

Earlier this week, Microsoft revealed its “new” YouTube app for Windows Phone. The app showed pre-roll ads based on Google’s ad services and disabled downloads. Yet it still was not up to Google’s snuff.

According to a blog post by David Howard, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft’s Litigation & Antitrust division, Google had asked Microsoft to build the app in HTML5 in the cooperative process. According to Howard, Microsoft thought this request was odd given that neither the iPhone nor Android versions of the YouTube app were built in HTML5. So, Microsoft decided to go ahead and release its non-HTML5 app this week in such a way that was compliant with Google’s previous complaints. 

Google still found fault with the YouTube for Windows Phone and revoked the API access key to the app, rendering the app useless for end users.

“It seems to us that Google’s reasons for blocking our app are manufactured so that we can’t give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting. The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it,” Howard said.

A YouTube spokesperson told reporters this week, “Microsoft has not made the browser upgrades necessary to enable a fully-featured YouTube experience, and has instead re-released a YouTube app that violates our Terms of Service.”

Request for a detailed response to Microsoft and Howard’s comments from Google have not been returned as of publication of this article.

Howard said that Google’s complaints stem around the fact that the app is not built on HTML, do not always serve pre-roll advertisements based on content creator guidelines, is an “inferior product” and how Microsoft brands the YouTube app for Windows Phone.

“We think it’s clear that Google just doesn’t want Windows Phone users to have the same experience as Android and Apple users, and that their objections are nothing other than excuses,” Howard said. “Nonetheless, we are committed to giving our users the experience they deserve, and are happy to work with Google to solve any legitimate concerns they may have. In the meantime, we once again request that Google stop blocking our YouTube app.”

Microsoft’s Rhetoric, Google’s Reticence

One important note in Microsoft’s objection is the source of the complaint. The post alleging foul play by Google does not come from the Windows Phone team such as Todd Brix, Microsoft general manager, Windows Phone apps and store team or any of Brix' cohorts. The complaint comes from Howard, head of Microsoft’s antitrust division.

It seems these days that Microsoft’s antitrust division has little to do with protecting, preventing or defending antitrust matters at, you know, Microsoft. The Redmond, Washington-based company has been the ringleader of a global hunt against Google. In the United States and Europe, Microsoft has been the forefront of a group called FairSearch.org that has one and only goal in its existence: to nail Google to the wall for real or perceived unfair business practices.

The group has not really had much success against Google in its mission, hitting roadblocks in the courts in both the U.S. and E.U. That hasn’t stopped the rhetoric and accusations from Microsoft, as Howard’s complaint of the new Windows Phone YouTube app shows.

For Google’s side, it asked Microsoft to do something and Microsoft did not or was not able to comply. So, Microsoft forged ahead with its own solution and Google put the kibosh on it. Google’s argument is that it will want to protect its content creators and create a product up to its standards. Yet, according to Microsoft, Google has not given Microsoft the resources to perform those goals.

Google has said in the past that the reason that it has not created its own YouTube app for Windows Phone (instead leaving development to Microsoft itself) is because of the lack of market share for Windows Phone devices. Google has also taken a similar stance with BlackBerry, whose YouTube app for BlackBerry 10 devices is little more than a shortcut to the mobile Web version of the site. 

It is hard to tell why Google does not play ball with Microsoft. Usually, Google’s modus operandi is to get as many people using its services across the world in whatever ways possible. Float balloons with free cellular connectivity over remote or underserved areas of the world? Sure! See Project Loon. Build high speed Internet access in certain cities in the U.S.? Google Fiber has you covered. But work with Microsoft in what should be the relatively simple task of creating a standard app for YouTube on the third most used mobile operating system? Well, hold on a second there.

The only real explanation is that Google and Microsoft just do not really like each other. Microsoft’s only real reaction to Google is to go after it with antitrust rhetoric in the public realm and the courts. Google just tries to ignore Microsoft while creating products that are subversive to Microsoft’s core business. 

Will there ever be a compromise? Or will Microsoft use this relatively minor issue of a YouTube app to once again take Google to task in the courts? Time will tell.