The European Commission (EC) opened a formal investigation to assess if technology giant Microsoft breached the bloc’s competition rules by bundling its Teams workplace app with its Office suite, which could result in a large fine.

The EC stated it was concerned Microsoft may grant Teams a distribution advantage by not giving customers a choice on whether or not to include access to the product when they subscribe to Office 365 or Microsoft 365 suites, thus limiting interoperability with competing offerings.

“These practices may constitute anti-competitive tying or bundling and prevent other communication and collaboration tools from competing, to the detriment of customers,” EC added.

Microsoft added Teams to Office 365 for free to replace its Skype for Business offering in 2017 and its popularity grew due to a rise in remote working fuelled by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Launch of the probe follows a complaint from Salesforce-owned workplace app rival Slack in 2020, which alleged Microsoft had illegally tied teams to “its dominant productivity suites”.

Margrethe Vestager, EVP in charge of competition policy stated remote communication tools like Teams have become indispensable for many businesses in Europe and it must therefore “ensure that the markets for these products remain competitive”.

Antitrust violations in the EU can carry a maximum fine of as much as 10 per cent of a company’s global annual turnover.