Microsoft finds itself in antitrust crosshairs

Microsoft has come under pressure from software suppliers that have raised market-abuse complaints with the European Commission over bundling of Defender security software with Windows.

Computer Weekly reports that security technology suppliers have complained to European Union (EU) officials over Microsoft’s alleged abuse of its dominant market position in Europe.

A high-level EU official from the European Commission (EC) competition directorate has said that at least three security software companies “met several times” with the EC to raise alleged market abuses by Microsoft. The complaints centre on Microsoft’s free security software add-on, Defender, included by default in the Windows 10 operating system. Security companies claim the tactic is shrinking the market for competing security software.

The latest complaints come on top of plans announced by Russian security software company Kaspersky in November 2016 to submit a formal anti-trust complaint against Microsoft to the European Commission.

In a confidential memo sent to DG Comp in Brussels last year, one security software supplier complained that Microsoft had broadened its definition of the Windows operating system to distribute other Microsoft software. The memo claimed Microsoft was “taking an artificial distribution advantage versus other competitors”, unrelated to the merits of the software products themselves. “For Microsoft, any Microsoft software can or will be made or ‘presented as’ a component of Windows.”

Separately, antivirus specialist Kaspersky is formalising its grievance over Microsoft’s alleged violation of the European Union’s competition rules. “We have made the decision to bring this case to the European Commission and are currently preparing the application”, said a Kaspersky Labs spokesperson.

Yevgeny Kaspersky, the 52-year-old CEO of the Russian security software company, wrote on his blog in November 2016: “We think that Microsoft has been using its dominating position in the market of operating systems to create competitive advantages for its own product.

“The company is foisting its Defender [software] on the user, which isn’t beneficial from the point of view of protection of a computer against cyber attacks. The company is also creating obstacles for companies to access the market, and infringes upon the interests of independent developers of security products.”

“From a security perspective, it can actually be risky to have Microsoft aggressively pushing, exclusively, its own anti-malware product because of the monoculture risk,” it said.

In 2012, Microsoft lost the anti-trust case brought against the company by the European Commission’s competition watchdog in 1998.

The Russian antitrust authority has also opened a formal investigation against Microsoft following a separate complaint from Kaspersky Labs in November 2016.