Europe prepares to clobber Microsoft over 'browser choice' failings

Europe prepares to clobber Microsoft over 'browser choice' failings

Summary: European regulators have issued a Statement of Objections to Microsoft over failures in implementing browser choice between February 2011 and July 2012 – a sign the Commission is looking to take its antitrust investigations further.


European regulators have stepped up their antitrust investigation against Microsoft.

EU flags

The Commission published a 'Statement of Objections' on Wednesday, saying the software company had failed to uphold an earlier commitment to offer a choice of browsers to European Windows users.

Microsoft was compelled to begin showing a 'browser choice screen' to European users setting up a new Windows PC following a 2009 settlement with the Commission — a settlement the Commission now feels has been breached.

"The Commission takes the preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to roll out the browser choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1, which was released in February 2011," the Commission wrote in its statement. "From February 2011 until July 2012, millions of Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen."

Microsoft admitted in July that it had "fallen short" in its responsibility to make a browser choice screen available. 

"Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the [Browser Choice Screen] software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7," Microsoft said at the time.

Next steps

Now the statement of objections has been published, Microsoft has to reply within one month, or it can request a longer period of around two months by seeking an extension. 

"The Commission takes the preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to roll out the browser choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1" — Commission statement

A statement of objections "must be used in procedures in which the Commission intends to adopt a decision adverse to the interests of the addresees", according to a European Commission document (PDF).

"Precedent tells us that [a Statement of Objections] does not issue unless the Commission believes it can make out its case and if necessary justify the imposition of a prohibition decision," the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace writes (PDF). "The [Statement of Objections] cannot therefore be dismissed as a mere preliminary step, but rather is already the product of considerable investigatory work."

If it is found Microsoft failed to honour the terms of a 2009 EU antitrust ruling, Microsoft could face a fine of up to 10 percent of its annual turnover.

"We take this matter very seriously and moved quickly to address this problem as soon as we became aware of it," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday. "Although this was the result of a technical error, we take responsibility for what happened, and we are strengthening our internal procedures to help ensure something like this cannot happen again. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and will continue to cooperate fully with the Commission."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Browser, Legal, Microsoft, EU, Windows

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • erm

    of course they are.....

    Do you really expect the EU to turn down a chance to charge a company $6b in these financially hard times?
    • Yes, they want to bailout Greece, Italy and other countries

      well at the same time fill their pockets in the name of bailing out. didn't Europe teach corruption to rest of the world when the invaded Asia, Africa, Americas, Australia few centuries back?
      Ram U
      • And to thank us for it

        the US bankrupted the world with their strange financial ways and smart banking practices.
        Corruption didn't really get started until the US got hold of it.
        Little Old Man
      • You meant

        When they created the US of America, Canada, Australia and few other "powers"? :)
        • I think he meant when the USA invented laws that allows US companies

          to patent inventions by other people overseas and to patent laws of nature such as genes, and then charge people for using them.
          Deadly Ernest
    • Did you expect . . .

      . . . Microsoft to follow the terms of a consent decree they signed? Silly of me, but I expected they would.

      Do you expect a court, any court, to put up with any person or company who signs a consent decree then fails dismally in carrying out the terms of that decree? Silly of you.
  • How come sometimes...

    ...the company really is a crook? No underlying vast conspiracy, they just broke the law and are going to be punished for it...
    Tony Burzio
    • Yep.

      Pretty much cut and dried. They signed off on a settlement over their past behavior, then failed to keep to the settlement.
  • Abusive

    Hey Europe... Microsoft is not a monster anymore... it is smaller, weaker and you made your point already. The industry has changed so much in the past 3 years and while you are so interested by M$, Apple and Google are basically doing exactly was you are suing Microsoft for.

    This industry is now based on software ecosystem and the browser is part of it. I don’t care about IE. Chrome is faster but the point is that if Apple can force me to use safari on their iPhone, iPad and iWhatever and Google can do the same on Chromebooks and Android devices, why can’t MS at least! Be allowed to distribute their O.S. with a preinstalled IE ?
    • Err, you haven't seen all the anti-trust investigations being started

      against the very same companies you mention? If there's free money to be made, the EU and FTC will both be at the front of the queue with their hands out.
      Little Old Man
    • The EU is trying to make a buck

      This is horse poo...Apple and Google do this everyday and nobody is slapping them on the hand. This isn't 2005 anymore...if anything this shows the speed of government. Always lagging behind as the times change. I myself enjoy using IE and prefer it over the other options available. I don't get caught up in the "SPEED" claims because we're talking about milliseconds not minutes. This isn't the old days of dial-up and Netscape vs IE.
    • It ain't about the industry over the past three years . . .

      . . . it's about Microsoft's failure to keep to the terms of an agreement they willingly signed.
  • Yeah that's right...

    Yeah of course blame Europe because Microsoft broke the law, and were warned, and were warned again, then *years* later get fined for it.
    Time to grow up k?
    • well Microsoft made a mistake

      and they could have warned them immediately, instead they waited for *years* for an opportunity to milk the cow. Who is bigger monopoly, you are right, it is none other than EU.
      Ram U
      • Waited years

        what rock have you been hiding under? This has been going on for years so to pretend the EU suddenly phoned MS out of the blue, and said give us some money, is just odd.
        Little Old Man
      • Yeah. . .

        . . . if I get pulled over by the cops for speeding, and I get off with a warning after I promise to drive slower, or if I get a ticket and promise the judged I won't speed anymore, it's THEIR FAULT if I get caught again because they didn't warn me the instant my speed limit? It's their fault I get up to 90mph before they catch me and ticket me again?

        This is some strange sense or responsibility you have.
    • erm

      Nobody denied they broke the "law" not a law by the way........ otherwise they would have been arrested.

      What they made was a mistake, which could ultimately come down to 1 persons fault so its pretty unfair to say fine them $6b. which they probably will.

      MS fixed the issue asap once made aware and even said they would keep to the original agreement even longer than required because of this issue.
      • 1 person responsible for the entire software release?

        Well then surely that one person should have to pay the 6 billion. As it was only 1 person working on the software.
        Little Old Man
        • When it comes right down to it, yes, one person.

          The person who signed off on the Service Pack being "completely tested and compliant with all regulatory agreements". And yes there is a checklist item for that, and there is, ultimately, one person who is responsible for failing to ensure that it was done right.
          • So . . .

            . . . they should hire a competent person for that job.