Could Microsoftbe violating European Union laws with one of its product bundles?
It's an antitrust question the European Commission is now formally investigating, according to an announcement Thursday.
Specifically, the investigation centers on whether Microsoft's bundling of its Teams communications app and its Office business suite — which includes apps like Word, Outlook and Excel — is violating the EU's competition rules.
The investigation comes after Slack, Teams' competitor in workplace message softwares, filed an anti-competition complaint against Microsoft in 2020. It said the combining of Teams with Office violated EU laws by abusing its market dominance to beat out the competition.
And last week, a German video conferencing company, alfaview, filed its own complaint, alleging the Microsoft bundle is an abuse of market dominance.
This point from the two companies was echoed in the Commission's investigation announcement.
"The Commission is concerned that Microsoft may be abusing and defending its market position in productivity software by restricting competition in the European Economic Area ('EEA') for communication and collaboration products," it said.
The Commission points to a Microsoft Office user's inability to choose whether they will have access to Teams when they make an Office account, as it's all under one umbrella under the large tech company. This, the Commission says, "may constitute anti-competitive tying or bundling" and could prevent other companies from competing with their products.
The Teams software offers multiple forms of communication, including messaging, calling, video meetings and file sharing. Though it launched in 2017, its use really started to grow rapidly in 2019 with the pandemic, as many people started working from home and hosting digital meetings instead of in-person.
"Remote communication and collaboration tools like Teams have become indispensable for many businesses in Europe. We must therefore ensure that the markets for these products remain competitive," said Margrethe Vestager, the EU's antitrust commissioner.
In a statement, Microsoft said it was cooperating with the antitrust probe, which is the EU's first into the company in nearly 15 years.
"We respect the European Commission's work on this case and take our own responsibilities very seriously," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "We will continue to cooperate with the Commission and remain committed to finding solutions that will address its concerns."
The commission noted the formal opening of the investigation doesn't prejudge its outcome, but it listed it as "a matter of priority."
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