Business, Economics and Jobs

Microsoft hit with $731 million EU fine for breaking browser choice promise


The Microsoft logo.


Justin Sullivan

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Not an Internet Explorer fan?

The European Union is on your side: the governing body has just fined Microsoft $731 million for failing to offer Windows users a web browser choice between May 2011 and July 2012.

Reuters reports that EU antitrust regulators levied the fine on March 6, claiming Microsoft broke a 2009 pledge to allow consumers a choice of browsers — following complaints that Microsoft had unfairly dominated the browser market.

Microsoft initially complied, but then released a version of Windows in 2011 that didn't offer a choice of browsers.

Read more from GlobalPost: EU sends Microsoft antitrust complaint

The EU sent Microsoft an antitrust complaint in October, noting that many computers running the Windows operating system failed to display the mandated browser choice screen to users.

GlobalPost senior correspondent Paul Ames says the decision represents the first time the EU's anti-trust watchdogs have sanctioned a company for failing to comply with an agreement, an indication that the European Commission aims to maintain its tough stance on such issues.

"The European Commission is sending a firm signal in this first case of its type that it will not tolerate failure by a company to comply with the commitments it gave to settle an antitrust infringement procedure," said Simmons & Simmons lawyer Tony Woodgate to the BBC.

Still, it could have been worse: the BBC reports that the EU commission could have theoretically fined Microsoft 10 percent of its global annual revenue, a $7.4 billion loss.

Ames reports that the EU's anti-trust chief took into account Microsoft's cooperative approach in the case.

"In setting the level of the fine, the Commission took into account the gravity and the duration of the infringement as well as the need to ensure that the sanction is sufficiently deterrent," said EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

"At the same time, once the breach was discovered, Microsoft cooperated with the Commission and provided information which helped the Commission to investigate the matter efficiently. This was taken into account as a mitigating circumstance," he said in a statement.

Microsoft has put the failure down to a technical error and said sorry, according to the New York Times.

"We take full responsibility for the technical error that caused this problem and have apologized for it," the company said in a statement.

"We provided the Commission with a complete and candid assessment of the situation, and we have taken steps to strengthen our software development and other processes to help avoid this mistake — or anything similar — in the future."

The company has been fined a total of $2.94 billion by EU authorities over the past 10 years.

However Microsoft is not entirely adverse to the European Commission taking a hard line on tech companies — it is hoping Almunia plays tough with Google which is under investigation for abusing its dominant position in internet search and advertising.

Almunia is seeking a negotiated settlement that is likely to oblige Google to make changes to address allegations it manipulate search results to the detriment of competitors. In January, Microsoft was critical of a ruling by the US Federal Trade Commission that Google had not broken antitrust laws.

Paul Ames contributed to this report from Brussels.