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Microsoft faces EU antitrust inquiry, up to $7B in fines [U]

updated 04:41 pm EDT, Tue July 17, 2012

Probe to determine if 2009 commitments were followed

[Update: official statement from Microsoft, estimated fines] European Union antitrust regulators have reportedly opened an investigation focused on Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. The probe is said to be a follow-up action that will attempt to determine if the company has followed guidelines that it agreed to in 2009 as part of earlier antitrust proceedings.

The EU's Competition Commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, suggests Microsoft may have violated its promise to outfit its Windows operating system with a dedicated screen that provides a clear choice between the company's own Internet Explorer browser and alternatives from competitors.

Although Microsoft initially followed the commitments established in 2009, Almunia claims the choice screen has not been implemented since February of last year. Approximately 28 million customers are estimated to have been using the OS without encountering the necessary screen.

The European Commission originally determined that Microsoft had violated antitrust laws by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. Regulators decided that alternative browsers developed by Google, Mozilla, Opera and other third parties might have a better chance to compete with Internet Explorer if users were forced to choose a default browser.

The Commission has yet to fully detail potential punishments for violations, though Almunia promised "If infringements are confirmed, there will be sanctions." [via CBS]

Update: Microsoft has admitted that its first service pack for Windows 7 did not include the browser-choice screen, though the company blames the omission on a "technical error." A software fix is said to be in the test stage before formal rollout to affected customers.

If the European Commission determines that the company failed to fulfill its legal commitments, fines could top out at 10 percent of annual revenues. Microsoft last year surpassed $70 billion in sales, suggesting a violation may bring a penalty of up to $7 billion.

by MacNN Staff



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