Busted: EU Levies $732 Million Antitrust Fine Against Microsoft, Admits Weak Oversight

Microsoft, and everybody else, assumed that a big fine was coming from the European Union over antitrust violations sometime this month; as it turned out, the wait was a short one, because the EU has fined Microsoft $732 million, according to the New York Times. Some expected the fine to be closer to a cool billion, so in that sense, Microsoft got off light.

After Microsoft got itself in hot water with the EU several years ago over making its Internet Explorer the default Web browser on computers running Windows--which, it was decided, was an antitrust violation that gave Microsoft an unfair advantage over the competition--EU officials mandated that Microsoft present users with a “browser ballot” page that let them select their preferred browser from a list.

browser ballot
The Browser Ballot

That was all fine and dandy until SP1 rolled out and made that screen disappear. It was probably a simple mistake, some minor technical error, but it violated the EU's ruling nevertheless. So why has it taken so long for the EU to catch up on its fines? Because they trusted Microsoft to monitor itself and stick to the rules of the previous settlement.

Joaquín Almunia
The EU's Joaquín Almunia

At some point, the browser ballot disappearance got back to the EU, resulting in today’s fine of $732 billion. To the EU’s credit, its top competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia copped to the group’s failure to oversee its own ruling and pledged to take a stronger hand in such matters in the future.