Brad Smith Microsoft

When Microsoft beat Salesforce to the punch on LinkedIn, their CEO was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.“We gave it a solid look, we are always looking to help our customers in new ways,” said Marc Benioff.

It now appears that the company isn’t as relaxed as Benioff suggested. Salesforce is trying to convince regulators to intervene in the deal, and Microsoft isn’t happy about it.

According to Business Insider, Salesforce wants a slice of LinkedIn’s user data. However, the company echoed a slightly different message in its statement:

“Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of LinkedIn threatens the future of innovation and competition. By gaining ownership of LinkedIn’s unique dataset of over 450 million professionals in more than 200 countries, Microsoft will be able to deny competitors access to that data, and in doing so obtain an unfair competitive advantage.

Salesforce believes this raises significant antitrust and data privacy issues that need to be fully scrutinized by competition and data privacy authorities in the United States and in the European Union. We intend to work closely with regulators, lawmakers and other stakeholders to make the case that this merger is anticompetitive.”

Benioff himself even weighed in on the argument, criticizing Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie. According to the CEO, Guthrie said Microsoft would use LinkedIn data for anticompetitive bundles at the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference.

However, the transcripts only mention integration in Microsoft’s own products, making us wonder if it’s just an attempt to justify competitive action.

Microsoft Response

Microsoft doesn’t seem to be too worried about the statement, and chief legal officer Brad Smith even made a thinly veiled threat of his own:

“Salesforce may not be aware, but the deal has already been cleared to close in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. We’re committed to continuing to work to bring price competition to a CRM market in which Salesforce is the dominant participant charging customers higher prices today.”

This marks another trough in the relationship between the two companies. Previously, the two were steadfast friends, but it looks like the competition has gotten to them.

Back in August, Salesforce bought Quip, a direct Office competitor. Microsoft then beat the company in SaaS revenue growth. Last week, Salesforce introduced an AI competitor. It’s easy to see why tensions are high, even if the two are still collaborating on Azure and Outlook.

In all likelihood, the complaints won’t stop the deal from going through. It could, however, attach some conditions to the deal, or result in scrutiny. LinkedIn’s complaint was part of a European Commission questionnaire that lets competitors comment on takeovers.

On Thursday, Denmark’s antitrust chief raised questions about the general practice.

“A company might even buy up a rival just to get hold of its data,” she said. “We are therefore exploring whether we need to start looking at mergers with valuable data involved.”

Whatever the result, LinkedIn’s tactic still feels very underhand, and makes us wonder how the two companies will proceed.