Browsergate: EU Commission Statement of Objections to Microsoft

October 24, 2012

The European Commission has informed Microsoft of its preliminary view that Microsoft has failed to comply with its commitments to offer users a choice screen enabling them to easily choose their preferred web browser. This relates to what Microsoft state was a technical error rather than a true dispute between the parties.

The fact remains that back in 2009 the Commission had made these commitments legally binding on Microsoft (see IP/09/1941). While the sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the final outcome of the investigation, it does put Microsoft on notice that a substantial penalty may be applied. Moreover, Commissioner Joaquín Almunia is widely reported to have warned Microsoft about browser choice in the new Windows 8.

In its statement of objections, 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. As a result, from February 2011 until July 2012, millions of Windows users in the EU may not have seen the choice screen. Microsoft has acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that period.

Microsoft had committed to make available for five years (ie until 2014) in the European Economic Area a ‘choice screen’ enabling users of Windows to choose in an informed and unbiased manner which web browser(s) they wanted to install in addition to, or instead of, Microsoft’s web browser. The choice screen was provided as of March 2010 to European Windows users who have Internet Explorer set as their default web browser.

The Commission had opened proceedings to investigate the potential non-compliance with the browser choice commitments on 16 July 2012 (see IP/12/800).

Microsoft released the following statement:

‘We take this matter very seriously and moved quickly to address this problem as soon as we became aware of it. 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.’

Microsoft have updated that statement with ‘After discussions with the Commission, we are changing some aspects of the way the Browser Choice Screen works on Windows 8 and will have those changes implemented when Windows 8 launches later this week.’