Tuesday 23 January 2018

Microsoft fined €561m for failing to offer alternative web browsers

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia
European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia

Peter Flanagan New Technology Correspondent

THE European Commission has fined Microsoft more than €500m after the tech giant stopped offering users alternative internet browsers.

The commission slapped a €561m penalty on the company after saying it broke a legally binding commitment in 2009 to give PC users a choice of which browser they wanted to use as their default.

An investigation found that Microsoft had failed to honour that obligation in software issued between May 2011 and July 2012, meaning 15 million users were not given a choice.

It is the first time the European Commission, the EU's anti-trust authority, has handed down a fine to a company for failing to meet its obligations.

"If companies agree to offer commitments which then become legally binding, they must do what they have committed to do or face the consequences," said Joaquin Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner.

The case dates from the late 1990s when Microsoft began bundling its Internet Explorer (IE) browser with its Windows operating system.

That allowed it to become the dominant player in the sector, with a market share at one time of more than 90pc.

In 2009, after an EU investigation, Microsoft undertook to offer users a browser choice screen allowing them to download a browser other than Explorer.

The commission made that obligation legally binding until 2014, and initially the company complied.

But the launch of the Windows 7 "service pack 1" that was rolled out between mid-2011 and mid-2012 failed to offer the choice, leading to the probe that resulted in yesterday's fine.

In calculating the penalty, the commission said it had taken into account that Microsoft had cooperated by providing information that had helped speed up the investigation.

Analysts always found it odd that Microsoft would have purposefully failed to offer a choice of browsers via its software, given that the potential fine for such a failure would far exceed any potential income from not offering it.

Microsoft's share of the European browser market has more than halved since 2008 to 24pc. Google's Chrome has 35pc, followed by Mozilla with 29pc, according to web traffic analysis company StatCounter. (Additional reporting by Reuters)

Irish Independent

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