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23rd Feb 2020

EU slaps €561 million fine on Microsoft in web browser case

  • The fine is the latest in a string of EU fines now totalling more than €2 billion on Microsoft (Photo: Microsoft)

The European Union has hit software giant Microsoft with a €561 million fine in one of the bloc's biggest anti-trust settlements.

EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia confirmed the sanction on Wednesday (6 March), saying that Microsoft had broken its commitment to offer all European users of its Windows programme alternative web browsers.

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The fine is the latest in a string of EU fines now totalling more than €2 billion on Microsoft.

The EU executive had launched an anti-trust case against Microsoft in 2009 arguing that the company was breaching competition rules by tying its Internet Explorer browser to all Windows PCs. At that time, the Windows programme had a 90 percent market share with Internet Explorer controlling 55 percent of the web browser market.

The Commission agreed to close the case in December 2009 after Microsoft promised to offer European users of Windows the choice between web browsers by setting up a choice screen on its computers, starting in 2010.

It also agreed to allow computer manufacturers and users the possibility to turn Internet Explorer off. Microsoft's pledge was then made legally binding by the Commission lasting until the end of 2014.

Almunia revealed that the choice screen had been used to download 84 million web browsers between March and November 2010.

However, the Commission launched a fresh investigation in July 2012, discovering that Microsoft did not include the choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1 between May 2011 and July 2012. An estimated 15.3 million Windows users in the EU were denied a choice of browser as a result.

In a press statement, Almunia described Microsoft's failure to meet its commitments as "a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly."

He added that the size of the fine was a warning to ensure that "companies think twice before they even think of intentionally breaching their obligations or even of neglecting their duty to ensure strict compliance."

For its part, Microsoft struck a note of contrition in a statement released following the announcement, saying that "we take full responsibility for the technical error that caused this problem and have apologised for it." 

"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,” it added.

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