John Paczkowski

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EU May Fine Microsoft Over Browser Ballot Bungle

Browser_ballotLooks like there could be legal consequences for Microsoft’s European Union browser ballot bungle — and soon.

Reuters reports that the European Commission plans to sanction Microsoft for failing to comply with a mandate to offer Windows users in Europe a choice of Web browsers beyond its own Internet Explorer. And sources familiar with the matter have confirmed to AllThingsD that this is indeed the case at this time. No word yet on the size of the fine, but given EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia’s public threats over the misstep, penalties could be severe. Whatever they are, sources say the EC will likely announce them sometime in March.

Under the terms of Microsoft’s 2009 antitrust settlement with the European Commission, the company was to present Windows users with a ballot screen offering them an opportunity to swap out Internet Explorer for one of 11 other browsers. And Microsoft did do that — at first, anyway. But when an update to Windows 7 rolled out in February of 2011, the company unwittingly eliminated the ballot screen, and didn’t realize it had done so until last summer.

In July of 2012, the commission opened an investigation into the matter, despite Microsoft’s apologies for what it claimed was a “technical error.” And by fall it had filed formal charges against Microsoft. “If companies enter into commitments, they must do what they have committed to do or face the consequences,” Almunia said during an October news conference. ” [They] should be deterred from any temptation to renege on their promises or even to neglect their duties. This is why, when this happens, the commission has the power to impose fines.”

And in this case it seems the agency plans to exercise it. That’s potentially bad news for Microsoft, which has already been fined about $1.28 billion by the EU. If the commission follows through on its current plan to sanction Microsoft, it could slap the company with fines equivalent to 10 percent of its fiscal 2012 revenue. That’s about $7.4 billion.

Microsoft declined comment.


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