EU antitrust regulators to probe Microsoft over browser choice

EU antitrust regulators to probe Microsoft over browser choice

Summary: Microsoft had admitted responsibility following scrutiny from European antitrust authorities into claims the software giant may have failed to fully comply with an earlier 2009 ruling.

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Microsoft is back under the EU antitrust spotlight after it was accused of failing to give its European customers a choice of Web browser, following the terms of a 2009 settlement.

The European Commission said it had received complaints that Microsoft misled EU authorities over its "browser ballot" screen, which was first rolled out to Windows users in February 2010. The software giant may not have provided all customers with a screen where a choice of browser could be selected, the EU's antitrust chief said today.

The browser ballot was a mandatory update issued as part of the company's efforts to comply with the ruling. It allowed competing browsers --- such as Firefox, Opera, and Chrome --- to be offered alongside Microsoft's own Internet Explorer as part of a settlement with EU regulators.

Microsoft is accused of not offering the screen since February 2011 when the software giant issued Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, meaning more than 28 million customers who bought the latest version of Windows with the patches pre-loaded may not have seen it.

The Redmond-based company said it was committed in making the browser ballot screen available until 2014 under the terms of the settlement, after it was accused of tying Internet Explorer to its market dominant Windows operating system to keep ahead of the burgeoning competition.

"We take compliance with our decisions very seriously. And I trusted the company's reports were accurate. But it seems that was not the case, so we have immediately taken action," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters earlier today.

"If infringements are confirmed, Microsoft should expect sanctions," indicating that Microsoft may face heavy financial penalties, or changes to how it conducts business in the 27 European member states.

This will be the first time the Commission had dealt with a company that had failed to meet requirements under a previous antitrust ruling, Reuters noted. The Commission said it will treat the case as a "matter of priority."

Microsoft faces a fine up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover should it be found flouting European antitrust laws; a figure that could total close to €5.7 billion ($7 bn; £4.5 bn).

In a public statement, Microsoft admitted it had "fallen short in [its] responsibility" to update Windows 7 Service Pack 1 "due to a technical error."

"While we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we've missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1."

"While we have taken immediate steps to remedy this problem, we deeply regret that this error occurred and we apologize for it," the statement added.

Update at 1:00 p.m. BST with Microsoft's statement.

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Government, EU

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  • It may be time for companies to start suing the EU

    with the deepening money problems the whole EU is facing, this is starting to sound like they are doing whatecer it takes to get money, even if it sounds a bit fishy. It may be time for companies to push back.
    Challenger R/T
    • Why?

      Do you believe that Corporation should set the rules? I'd think very carefully about that. I sure wouldn't want to see cars come with an EULA. If the auto makers could get away with pushing substandard crap (like Microsoft often does) there would be lot fewer drivers, as a good portion of them would be dead. Microsoft did not like he settlement, and I would expect them to try and get out of it. But crikey, when you gt caught "Man up", quit your whining. They have been out of compliance for 16 months, and they had to know someone would catch on, eventually...
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • What in the world makes you think a government

        has your best interests at heart?
        baggins_z
        • Anyone thinking government is all good and capable is ...

          a class-A gullible fool. MSFT should not be forced to provide a stupid browser choice in the first place.
          LBiege
          • Sure they should

            And they should stop bundling it with the OS. The OS *should* be browser neutral.

            Of course we all know otherwise.
            CaviarBlack
          • MSFT has every right to bundle anything they like

            It's up to the customers to decide whether they want to buy the bundled packages or not instead of a bunch of Eurocrats. Just look at the PIIGS mess, why anyone would have faith in the politicians to manage anything is beyond me.
            LBiege
          • Not in the EU they don't

            Or do you not know what this article is all about?
            CaviarBlack
          • You got this VERY wrong.

            The browser ballot screen was NOT suggested by the EU. NOT !

            MS suggested that to "compensate" for breaking inter operation rules for much too long.

            MS suggested this as a legally binding agreement to balance out their misdeeds a bit.

            Now MS has broken the agreement they themselves suggested.

            How is that the fault of " a bunch of Eurocrats." ?
            hkommedal
          • xuniL_z
          • hkommedal, that's not right.

            MSFT was not given the choice, or did they "decide" on their own punishment.
            They were forced to make changes and allowed to participate, but the EU had the final say.
            MS offered a great solution. Windows with NO browser as an option. But the EU spurnned that, because they recall looking like world class morons when MS settled the....sigh...bundling of WMP issue the Eurocrats had. So remember XP N? It was offered but nobody bought it. They CHOSE to buy the version with WMP.
            The Eurocrats do NOT ALLOW their people to think for themselves....nuh uh....they would not allow that this time arouind. think about it. If this is for the freedome of choice, and MSFT is willing to provide a version with the browser disabled, why is that not sufficient, other than to say Eurocrats will not let their own people make their own choices.
            It's absurd. But the EU/EC has conditioned it's people to bark and roll over on command.
            xuniL_z
          • Oh yes it is.

            The Browser Ballot screen WAS Microsoft's idea.
            It was not their first choice, but it was their idea.

            The committed themselves to a LEGALLY BINDING PROMISE.

            Later they broke that promise.
            Are you now suggesting they have the right to brake it ?
            hkommedal
          • What I mean is, it was not totally voluntary.

            They were required to do something but they had choice.
            If you recall, they first suggested providing a version of windows with the browser disabled. Perfect, right? Isn't that the whole idea, let the consumer decided???
            but the EU shot that down. So that is what I mean by it was not really their choice, because they wanted to do what I just said.
            The EU knew that didn't work because of XP N from prior AT trials about WMP.
            It never ends with teh Eurocrats.
            But they looked like fools when nobody purchased the XP N versions. They CHOSE to buy the version with WMP.
            But the EU/EC won't let the citizens have free choice. They want the decision forced on them to use a different browser.
            Can you really argue that have Win 7 w/o browswer would have have satisfied this issue? Only in the sense it backfired on the EU is it not valid, but in reality it gives complete and unbiased choice to the consumer but the EU won't give the citizens that, they don't trust them to buy the non IE version on their own.
            Pitiful. Absolutely pitiful. What is wrong with that solution?
            xuniL_z
          • Bundling anything they want

            @ LBiege

            In order for Microsoft to bundle anything they want, they must go the Apple route. Forget about OEMs, build their very own devices and install their very own software (bundles) on them.

            Like it was explained already, Microsoft themselves chose this binding agreement. Or, they could have been fined already and who knows what else...
            danbi
          • So then the EU has a lot more work to do...

            -> "And they should stop bundling it with the OS. The OS *should* be browser neutral."

            ...because both Apple and Linux bundle browsers in their OS.
            PollyProteus
          • Linux don't bundle anything...

            Linux is a kernel. There are "distributions" (e.g. Ubuntu, Fedora etc.) using the Linux kernel, but they usually bundle multiple browsers with each distribution. None of the Linux distributions own any browsers they distribute with the Linux kernel. On top of that, every user are free to choose any browser that particular distribution offer. If the user don't like the packaged browser choice provided, the user are free to use any other distribution or load their preferred browser themselves. Now that is freedom of choice!
            Johan Safari
          • So Windows and Linux offer the same thing

            "If the user don't like the packaged browser choice provided, the user are free to" "load their preferred browser themselves. Now that is freedom of choice!"

            There are not 473 flavors of Windows to choose from, so they cannot choose a different distribution, but there has never been a problem loading another browser.
            john-whorfin
          • Ok, settle down Mr. Safari.....lets say Ubuntu then.....

            Cannonical will have to start including every browser in it's bundle.
            and what will Google do? Their browser is their OS. Hmmmm?
            They'll need to build an IE version of the OS for their web machine.
            xuniL_z
          • Re; They'll need to build an IE version of the OS for their web machine.

            That is a stupid statement.
            ONLY Microsoft is allowed to make IE. All the rights to it belongs to MS and they have so far never provided any IE for any Linux, nor have they given anybody else a license to make one.

            Most other browsers ARE supplied with Ubuntu.

            Try to make some better statements. I know you can; you've done it before.
            hkommedal
          • There has been IE

            For Mac in the past.
            the point is, Google will not be able to sell a device that uses only it's own browser.
            Why should it be allowed to monopolized the browser?
            I guess they simpley can't do it, because there are no competitors. The EU has this kind of logic. they forced MS to release server documentation when their Server marketshare was nowhere near monopolizing anything. it was 50 some percent.
            xuniL_z
          • Thats a stupid idea for any os. Perhaps that every desktop, tablet, and

            smartphone shipped has a bundled browser should have been your first clue. Internet usage is usability scenario numero uno for about a decade now. No extra selection/downloading should get in the way of that. Also most offline help documenation is html now and users should have the capability to read it oob without ever connecting to the internet.
            Johnny Vegas