Microsoft has been fined to the tune of $732 million by the European Union, for failing to adhere to the requirements of a settlement agreement that resulted from Microsoft’s restrictive shipping of Windows computers pre-loaded with Internet Explorer as the default web browser, and with no obvious alternative. Joaquin Almunia, competition commissioner for the European Union, noted that it had been a mistake to let Microsoft monitor their own compliance with the agreement.
Almunia noted that settlements “allow for rapid solutions to competition problems,” adding that “Of course such decisions require strict compliance” where “failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft was supposed to, for a period of five years, provide a “ballot screen” from which European users of new Microsoft computers could readily download other browers, and turn of Internet Explorer.
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According to sources, Microsoft had assured the commission that it was complying with the agreement, while in fact at least 15 million users in Europe did not receive the ballot screen.
“We trusted the reports about the compliance,” said Almunia, adding that “Maybe we should have tried to complement the responsibilities of the reports about the implementation, but we only reacted when we received the first complaint.”
Said Microsoft, “We take full responsibility for the technical error that caused this problem and. have apologized. We have taken steps to strengthen our software development and other processes to help avoid this mistake – or anything similar – in the future.”
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