EC Imposes $731 Million Fine For Microsoft's "Technical Error"

Concluding its antitrust investigation of Microsoft for violating a deal that required Microsoft to offer EU users a clear choice in browsers, the European Commission has socked the US software giant with a €561 million (US$730.9 million) fine.

Under a 2009 agreement with the EC, Microsoft's Windows customers in Europe were supposed to see a dialog box that would point them to Microsoft-hosted browserchoice.eu, which features choices enabling them to select Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome when launching Windows for the first time. The agreement was reached to alleviate the EC's fears that Microsoft wasn't providing better access for Windows users to take advantage of other browser technology. The choice screen was meant to be in place for five years, into 2014.

But when Microsoft released Windows 7 Service Pack 1 in February 2011, the EC noted that browser choice dialog was not visible in the release of that update to the Windows operating system. This, despite the face that Microsoft sent the EC its annual compliance report in December 2011 indicating that it was still in compliance.

(See also Will EC Antitrust Investigation Reveal Microsoft Malfeasance, or Just Incompetence?.)

Microsoft has already admitted the error to the EC, claiming it was a technical error, where the detection logic within the browser choice screen application was not updated properly when Windows 7 SP1 was released.

Update: Microsoft has released a brief statement on the matter this morning:

"We take full responsibility for the technical error that caused this problem and have apologized 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."

This is a significant fine for any company, even Microsoft, and it comes on top of €1.6 billion in other fines that the commission has slapped on Microsoft over the years for what the EC has deemed anticompetitive behavior. The EU can fine a company up to 10% of its prior year's revenues.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.