data on a computer screen
Microsoft's ability to leverage data from LinkedIn and its own data sources provides powerful demand signals. PHOTO: Markus Spiske

Editor's note: Microsoft and LinkedIn announced on Dec. 8 that the acquisition has officially closed.

Microsoft's pending $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn is expected to close in a matter of days. 

The company cleared the final hurdle this week when the European Commission in Brussels approved the mega-deal, despite the strong objections from Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff. Benioff unsuccessfully argued the professional networking site's rich data trove would give the world's largest software company an unfair advantage over it and other competitors.

Final Approval

The approval follows similar reviews and clearances in the United States, Canada, Brazil and South Africa, according to a blog post by Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith. "In each country and in a number of others, we’ve had the opportunity to review our combination with government officials and regulators in considerable detail," Smith said.

European Commission members asked whether Microsoft would be able to shut out its competitors by obliging customer relationship management customers buying LinkedIn's sales intelligence solutions to also purchase Microsoft's customer relationship management software or denying its competitors access to the full LinkedIn database, thus preventing them from developing advanced customer relationship management functionalities also through machine learning.

But Microsoft apparently calmed their fears. In their decision, they wrote:

"Access to the full LinkedIn database is not essential to compete on the market. Moreover, Microsoft is a relatively small player in the customer relationship management market, where it faces strong competitors, such as Salesforce, the clear market leader, Oracle and SAP. The Commission therefore considered it unlikely that the transaction would enable Microsoft to foreclose these players and eliminate competition in this market.”

A Blow for Benioff

Benioff last month raised concerns about Microsoft's plans for LinkedIn's data. In an interview with Recode's Kara Swisher, he referenced comments made at a at a Deutsche Bank conference by Scott Guthrie, EVP of the Cloud and Enterprise group at Microsoft. 

"[Guthrie] started talking about how he was going to wind the LinkedIn data with their CRM data, with their productivity data, with all the other data streams that Microsoft has — and especially proprietary data streams — to create what he said was essentially a barrier to entry for other players in business productivity, where they have a monopoly or other markets."

'Powerful Data Signals'

R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst, founder and chairman of Silicon Valley based Constellation Research, told CMSWire Microsoft's ability to leverage data from LinkedIn and its own data sources provides powerful demand signals.

"It's not the individual data," he said, likening it to Glassdoor's ability to discern when a company's employees are unhappy. "If you see 10 percent of employees updating their LinkedIn profile at company x you know something big is happening. You may not know what it is, but it triggers a deeper look."

In the same way, LinkedIn's data will give Microsoft a strategic advantage. He explained:

"The value of the deal (and the impetus behind competitors' fears) is in that insight and in that network. Microsoft can use that network to build very powerful insights across all industries and businesses and can even launch very targeted and smart HR products as well based on this insight."

All told, if Microsoft leverages its data assets effectively, it could know its customers as well as say, Facebook, or as well as Marketo’s new CEO Steve Lucas said his company ultimately will.

Salesforce Response

In a statement this week, Burke Norton, Salesforce's s chief legal officer, noted that questions around access to critical data sets will only become more important as artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technologies advance. "Salesforce will continue to share its views with regulators and policy makers around the world about the ways in which access to data is emerging as a key issue in competition policy," he stated.

What's less clear is whether consumers of products like LinkedIn and Microsoft will care enough to read the fine print to find out how their data will be used. While it's illegal for companies to use data without consent, many people routinely click "agree" without full understanding of the nature of their consent.

What matters now, as Wang told CMSWire is this: "Will Microsoft use its new powers for good?" 

We can only hope so.