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Europeans Eying Whether It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again In New Microsoft Browser Probe

Posted  July 23, 2012

The European Commission has opened an investigation to determine whether Microsoft failed to comply with its 2009 commitment to the Commission to encourage Internet browser competition by providing Windows users in Europe with a screen showing the 12 most popular browsers.

In December 2009, the Commission’s competition office found that Microsoft’s practice of offering only its browser, Internet Explorer, to Windows users was anticompetitive.  The Commission made legally binding Microsoft’s commitments, including the browser-choice screen, to address the antitrust concerns.

According to the Commission, however, it appears that Microsoft has not fulfilled this commitment.  “Since the launch of Windows 7, in February 2011, the choice screen has no longer been displayed,” said Joaquin Almunia, Commissioner for Competition, at a press conference .  “As a result about 28 million users may not have seen the choice screen at all.”

This new investigation is the latest in an extended series of antitrust enforcement actions taken by the Commission to rein in what it perceives to be Microsoft’s continuing market power in personal computer operating systems.

In 2004, the Commission found that Microsoft’s tying of Windows Media Player to the Windows operating system was an abuse of a dominant position, and ordered the company to share interoperability information.  In addition to fining Microsoft 497 million euros in 2004, the Commission slapped Microsoft with penalties – for non-compliance with the 2004 decision – of 280.5 million euros in 2006 and 899 million euros in 2008.  In 2012 the European General Court upheld the 2008 finding of non-compliance, but reduced the penalty to 860 million euros.

If the investigation finds Microsoft guilty of failing to fulfill its 2009 commitment, the Commission can impose an antitrust fine of 10 percent of the company’s annual turnover, according to Almunia.

Tagged in: Antitrust Enforcement, International Competition Issues,