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Salesforce Is Said to Question Microsoft-LinkedIn Deal in Europe

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From left, Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive of Salesforce.com, and Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft. Credit David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Microsoft outmuscled its rival Salesforce.com this year to buy LinkedIn, the professional social network, for $ 26.2 billion.

Now, Salesforce.com, an internet software company that also showed interest in acquiring Twitter, has raised concerns with Europe’s antitrust authorities about the potential takeover, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The competition questions have focused on whether Microsoft’s proposed deal would hinder access by people and companies to the vast collection of data held by LinkedIn. Salesforce.com has also suggested that the deal would give Microsoft an unfair advantage over rivals by combining its own software services with the information held by the social network, two of the people said.

The comments came in response to a questionnaire sent by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, a step that allows interested third-party companies, including competitors, to comment on prospective takeovers.

Salesforce.com’s concerns do not necessarily mean that Margrethe Vestager of Denmark, the region’s tough antitrust chief, will open an investigation into Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn, though on Thursday she raised her own questions about how digital data should be treated in future competition cases.

“A company might even buy up a rival just to get hold of its data,” Ms. Vestager told an audience in Brussels, though she did not specifically mention Microsoft’s deal for LinkedIn. “We are therefore exploring whether we need to start looking at mergers with valuable data involved.”

Ricardo Cardoso, a European Commission spokesman, declined to comment on Salesforce.com’s response to the competition questionnaire.

A Microsoft spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider, declined to comment on the European Commission questionnaire, though he said the company had already received antitrust clearance in the United States and Canada and was working with other global authorities on similar approval. The company has yet to submit its LinkedIn deal to European competition authorities, but it is likely to do so by early November, at the latest.

“We expect to close before the end of this calendar year,” Microsoft said in a statement on Thursday.

A Salesforce.com spokeswoman, Chi Hea Cho, also declined to comment on the submitted antitrust concerns, but she said the company had been contacted by the European Commission as part of its review of the proposed deal. The company also made similar efforts in the United States to highlight the potential competition problems with the deal, but it failed to win over American authorities, said another person with knowledge of the matter.

While Salesforce.com’s criticism of the acquisition could appear to be just sour grapes after it lost out on buying LinkedIn, its questions about how Microsoft’s control of data would potentially hinder rivals are gaining traction with some European officials.

One possibility would be for Microsoft to combine LinkedIn’s information on people’s résumés and messaging activity on the social network with its own Office software, providing the tech giant with an advantage over rivals offering similar services. In previous statements, Microsoft said its own offerings did not overlap with LinkedIn’s and that competing services like Facebook, which also collect large amounts of data, also existed.

Similar data-related concerns were raised in Europe when Facebook bought WhatsApp, the messaging app, in 2014 for $ 19 billion. The region’s authorities have been regularly criticized, particularly by European telecommunications operators, for approving that deal despite complaints that it would limit consumer choice.

Ms. Vestager, who has already ordered Apple to return $ 14.6 billion in back taxes to Ireland and has filed three separate sets of charges against Google, has openly discussed how a limited number of companies have gained almost complete control over people’s digital information. Apple and Google deny any wrongdoing in their cases.

In an interview this year, Ms. Vestager said individuals had to be careful about how much data they shared with companies, and she questioned whether the collection of large amounts of information gave one company an unfair advantage over another.

“The questions people have been asking are whether data can be duplicated, and can a competitor establish itself in the same way or buy a copy of another’s data,” she said.

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