Microsoft admits it has ‘fallen short’ on EU browser choice responsibilities

17 Jul 2012

Microsoft today admitted it failed to display a ‘Browser Choice Screen’ on Windows 7 (Service Pack 1) PCs in Europe. As a result, it faces an EU probe and could face millions of euros worth of sanctions.

In December 2009, Microsoft ended a 10-year dispute with the European Commission over anti-competitive charges by agreeing to offer all Microsoft Windows users in Europe a choice of internet browsers via a pop-up window.

During the course of the decade-long dispute, the commission imposed fines totalling €1.68bn on Microsoft.

However, it has emerged that the European Commission has received reports from users of Service Pack 1 that they weren’t seeing the browser choice screen.

According to Microsoft, this is due to a software error and it hopes to complete a fix rollout by this weekend.

“Under a December 2009 decision of the European Commission, Microsoft is required to display a Browser Choice Screen (BCS) on Windows PCs in Europe where Internet Explorer is the default browser.

“We have fallen short in our responsibility to do this. Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7. The BCS software has been delivered as it should have been to PCs running the original version of Windows 7, as well as the relevant versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista.

“However, while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28m PCs running Windows 7 SP1.

“While we have taken immediate steps to remedy this problem, we deeply regret that this error occurred and we apologise for it,” Microsoft said.

Microsoft’s version of events and offer of extension

In a statement, Microsoft said it responded to the European Commission’s observation that the BCS wasn’t appearing. “The Commission recently told us that it had received reports that the BCS was not being displayed on some PCs.

“Upon investigating the matter, we learned of the error. We promptly notified the commission of what we had found and took the following steps:

  • Distributed the BCS: Within one business day of discovering the problem we developed a software fix and began testing it. This was on July 2. The next day we began distributing the BCS software to the PCs running Windows 7 SP1 which we had missed, and we ensured it is available for all new PCs with Windows 7 SP1. We expect to substantially complete distribution of the BCS software to the PCs we initially missed by the end of the week.
  • Outside Investigation: We retained experienced outside counsel to conduct a formal investigation of precisely how the technical error occurred and to make suggestions to avoid any such compliance problems in the future. They have already interviewed Microsoft employees and are now following up with document review. They will continue to have access to all of our employees and documents and we have asked them to prepare a full report when their work is complete. They will provide this report to the European Commission.
  • Offered to Extend our Compliance Period: Since we have fallen short in our responsibility to display the BCS, we have offered to extend the time during which we are obliged to do so by an additional 15 months. We understand that the commission will review this matter and determine whether this is an appropriate step for Microsoft to take. We understand that the commission may decide to impose other sanctions.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years