European Regulators Think Consumers Too Stupid to Know How to Download a Different Browser

by on June 11, 2009 · 30 comments

According to Ina Fried of CNet News, Microsoft plans to remove its Internet Explorer web browser from the new versions of Windows 7 when it ships it in Europe later this year. [Additional coverage at ZDNet.]  MS is apparently doing so to assuage the concerns of EU antitrust officials, who have been obsessed with the company for the past decade. [Update: Here is MS official announcement.]

Apparently, European officials think their citizens are too stupid to find an alternative browser.  I mean, seriously, how hard is it?  Does the competition lack name recognition such that consumers can’t find them?  Hmmm… Google and Apple seem to be pretty well known brands, and their browsers (Chrome & Safari) are pretty easy to find.  And then there’s Mozilla’s Firefox browser (my PC favorite) and Opera (my mobile phone favorite), which are outstanding browsers. [Incidentally, Firefox already has 31% share of the European market.]

OK, OK, the regulators might say, but these competitors are just too expensive!  Uh, no, wait… every one of them is free. So, strike that theory.

Well, the regulators need another theory then. How about illegal tying of products and services! You know, there’s only certain sites or services you can use with IE, right?   Nope, that theory doesn’t work either.  And does anyone believe that MS could really tie OS functionality to the use of IE? How long would the world tolerate Outlook e-mails or Word documents that only allowed linking to URLs via IE??  Come on.

OK, any other theories left? Not that I can think of. Which brings us back to the only theory the Euro-crats have left: people are sheep. They’ll take whatever MS bundles into the OS free, you see, and they will use it more than they use competing products.  Thus, we regulators have to save them from their own stupidity! The masses just don’t know what’s good for them!  These free, integrated services are harming them! And, therefore, the only remaining solution is to kill innovation by crippling functionality and removing the free offering. That’s pro-consumer! … or so say the European antitrust bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a whole lotta innovation continues to take place. But shhhh.. don’t tell the Euro-crats. They need a company to pick on. Welcome to the Theater of the Techno-Absurd.

  • Brett Glass

    Adam, I am — as you know — an ISP. And I can tell you, because I install high speed Internet in users' homes daily — that somewhere between 40% and 50% of them have no idea that alternative browsers exist, or where to get them, or that they are free.

    We also see huge amounts of spyware — including browser toolbars such as the Google toolbar — on users' machines. Very often, they do not want these toolbars, which monopolize space in their browsers and spy on their activities, on their machines at all. Rather, they found them installed when they bought their computers and did not know that they could be removed. Or, in some cases, the toolbar came in as a “drive-by download” (also called “foistware”) or was installed as they installed another, often unrelated product.

    I'm not in favor of unwarranted regulation; however, when consumers are being deceived or there are anticompetitive practices or market failure, it may be appropriate for government to intervene. In the case of Microsoft's Internet Exploder (oops, I mean Explorer), Microsoft has unnecessarily bolted the browser — a product that's not a necessary part of an operating system — to the OS. This is an anticompetitive tie, and it is worth addressing.

  • RedRumDevil

    I use four! No big deal!

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Brett… I'm not sure what the Google toolbar has to do with any of this (would that be competition to IE??) but on your second point, you'll have to explain to us exactly how consumers are “being deceived” or “harmed” by MS offering a browser as part of their operating system? Should they also strip out the free calculator they offer in the OS? Do I hear you calling for a “dumb browser”? If so, that will make me laugh given your past opposition to “dumb pipe” net neutrality mandates.

    For the record, I am against government mandating that any system, network, or technology be “dumbed down” by regulation. That would go for a rural wireless ISP or a computer operating system. Long live unfettered innovation!

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Brett Glass has it exactly correct: “Microsoft has unnecessarily bolted the browser — a product that's not a necessary part of an operating system”. This is not simply about government regulation but also about disingenuous business practices. As with the exposure of government regulation that is considered onerous, disingenuous business practices need to be exposed too.

    A lot of so-called onerous regulation exists due to abusive business tactics that some companies willfully have pursued. The solution is obvious and simple, companies have the free will, which means they don't have to pursue these abusive strategies. If companies act reputably, then we wouldn't have all this “onerous” regulation.

  • Ryan Radia

    Who is to say what is and isn't a “necessary” part of an operating system? At its core, an OS is just an application that runs other applications. Heck, there's a case to be made that the GUI itself isn't really a necessary part of an OS. Imagine if Microsoft had to include 5 third-party options for every OS component in Windows. Installation would take a lot longer and it'd be confusing to a lot of users who just want something thta “works.” Not to mention the fact that any firm whose software didn't make it into Windows would cry foul, no matter how small its market share.

    While it may be true that a large number of users aren't aware it's not clear why that justifies regulation. Any dominant browser will suffer from security woes, and any user who wants something different can find it in literally 10 seconds by doing a Web search. Besides, in just about any market there are lots of consumers who are fairly ignorant of the choices that exist, but competition seems to continue regardless.

    And if Microsoft's bundling of IE with Windows is so abusive, then how has Firefox managed to pick up so much market share over the past couple years? That suggests that plenty of consumers are willing to try a different browser. As for the rest of consumers, many probably just don't care much about browser and will simply use the default option no matter what it is.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    “I'm not in favor of unwarranted regulation; however, when consumers are being deceived or there are anticompetitive practices or market failure, it may be appropriate for government to intervene.”

    EXACTLY. That is a very reasonable middle of the road opinion that I fully support. But we need to understand that in the libertarian world view, there can exist no such thing as a market failure. It is by definition impossible.

    The fact that Firefox and other competitors exist is no argument against enforcing anti-bundling provisions in existing laws. Remeber that Microsoft is a convicted monopolists.

    The other thing to remember is that the Association for Competitive Technology is in reality a front organization for Microsoft. Braden Cox and TLF is associated with the ACT.

    see:http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Association_for_Competitive_Technology

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    From the TLF website:

    Adam Thierer is a Senior Fellow with the Progress & Freedom Foundation and the Director of PFF's Center for Digital Media Freedom.

    A few notes regarding Adam Thierer's ties to Microsoft and Microsoft front groups might be in order:

    FROM SOURCEWATCH (http://www.sourcewatch.org):

    PFF was initially started with funds raised from large corporate donors by Rep. Newt Gingrich.[2] Many feel PFF was created as an attempt to to circumvent limits on corporate campaign contributions.[3] These theories are lent credence by the fact that one of PFF's founders was Jeffery A. Eisenach, formerly executive director of GOPAC Rep. Gingrich's controvertial political action committee.

    From the PFF website:

    Supporters of The Progress & Freedom Foundation include -

    AT&T
    CBS Corporation
    Comcast Corporation
    CompTIA
    Cox Enterprises
    DIRECTV
    EMI Group
    Entertainment Software Association
    Intel Corporation
    GoDaddy.com, Inc.
    Google Inc.
    Microsoft Corporation
    National Cable & Telecommunications Association
    NBC Universal
    The News Corporation Limited
    Oracle Corporation
    Sony & BMG Music Entertainment, Inc.
    Time Warner Inc.
    Time Warner Cable
    T-Mobile
    VeriSign, Inc.
    Verizon Communications
    Viacom Inc.
    Vivendi
    The Walt Disney Company

    Here's a compilation of think tanks that appear to be Microsoft front groups:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2004/06/tanks.php

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Yes, enema_foundry, that's right. I am nothing more than a stooge for Microsoft. I couldn't possibly actually believe in anything I say here. Only socialist scum like you are true to your principles while freedom-loving libertarians like me are only in it for the money.

    Incidentally, before you suggest that PFF is somehow a tool of MS, you might want to do some homework and read the books and papers that PFF published about the DOJ's antitrust case back in the 90s. I suppose you'll have some silly theory about why that was the case.

    But hey, your shitty comments are always welcome here. I need to remember who the enemy is and how stupid they are to keep me motivated to defend freedom from turds like you.

  • Ryan Radia

    I'm a libertarian and I most certainly believe that market failure can and does occur frequently. While I can't speak for all libertarians, I think that many of them also acknowledge market failure as a very real phenomenon.

    The real question isn't whether markets fail, but how to figure out when they're failing and what to do about it. It's incredibly hard to identify actual cases of market failure. What looks like a market failing could simply be a culmination of rational choices resulting in an outcome that seems illogical. Figuring out how to correct market failures is even harder. Markets simply move to quickly and operate in such complicated ways that even highly trained experts can only make educated guesses as to what policies can correct market imperfections.

    Furthermore, while markets do fail, government fails far more often. While markets, properly conceived, have mechanisms that generally align incentives such that efficiency and utility are maximized, government suffers from inescapable deficiencies such as regulatory capture, rent-seeking, and bureaucratic incompetence. Just look at what the FDA, FCC, EPA, and FTC do. They deny consumers choices, impose hidden taxes on everybody, and stifle innovation in countless ways.

  • Ferruccio Fortini

    There is a well-known “inertia effect” in human behavior — see “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (Thaler and Sunstein) and “Predictably Irrational” (Ariely). Switching from opt-in to opt-out for 401k saving plans can triple the number of people who actually participate — that's how powerful inertia is. Does this mean people are sheep? No, it means they're human beings, predictably irrational and susceptible to being nudged one way or another. Providing a “default X” — even a sucky one — WILL vastly increase X's market share, because to get a different X requires active choice and action.

    Would you think elections were fair if the default choice was the Socialist candidate — implicitly accepted by all voters who didn't explicitly choose otherwise and act accordingly — and it required specific choice and action on each voter's part to change to the Libertarian one?-)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Adam:

    So glad to hear you are taking the high road with your abusive comments full of scatological references. Obviously, my comments are hitting some kind of a nerve.

    But, of course I wouldn't ever make these types of comments IF you included some kind of disclaimer or disclosure in your post, as is common journalistic practice when there is the potential of conflict of interest.

    Libertarians have a hard time owning up to their agenda which is in fact anti-freedom in many respects.

    Cheers!

    E_F

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Incidentally, before you suggest that PFF is somehow a tool of MS, you might want to do some homework and read the books and papers that PFF published about the DOJ's antitrust case back in the 90s. I suppose you'll have some silly theory about why that was the case.

    Adam, would you care to cite any actual PFF papers which discuss the Microsoft DOJ anti-trust case?

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Ryan writes: “Just look at what the FDA, FCC, EPA, and FTC do. They deny consumers choices, impose hidden taxes on everybody, and stifle innovation in countless ways.” This is a conclusionary assertion that is logically flawed.

    Regulation (to a large degree) is aimed at managing a resource, not at stifling/denying “innovation”. Clearly managing a resource means that some stifling of innovation will occur. However, we need to question what this really means. What seldom seems to be acknowledged at the TLF is that the imposition of regulatory standards actually fosters the business environment. Products can be designed to meet that one standard thereby lowering cost and the product can be sold in many areas thereby increasing its market exposure.

    True, standards can be construed (in a biased manner) as stifling/denying innovation but there is a point where the freedom to innovate is actually counterproductive to the business environment. For example, take a look at our road network. The road system follows certain design standards and the interstate highway system was designed to employ a national design standard. If we did NOT have a national design standard for our road system, we could find ourselves in a hypothetical situation where a truck could not cross state lines because it did not meet certain standards thereby requiring that the merchandise be transferred to another truck. Each time merchandise, in this hypothetical situation, has to be transferred, it adds cost and time to the movement of the products. Yes, universal standards can stifle/deny innovation, but we also need to look at the benefit of implementing universal standards not blindly condemning regulation as “evil”.

    Also I should add that innovation can occur within a regulatory standard, simply having a regulatory standard does not preclude the ability to innovate.

    The FDA was thrown in the mix as an “evil” regulator that can also deny consumer choice. Does that mean that the consumer choice includes unsafe food? Isn't protecting the quality of the nations food supply chain an appropriate governmental regulatory activity? Would you seriously be advocating that it is the responsibility of every citizen when they go shopping for food to bring a Salmonella testing kit, a heavy metals testing kit, a PH testing kit, their own weighing scales to weigh the food, and opening every package to inspect it before buying it. Could you imagine how much this would slow down commercial transactions?

    Given the above situation, we (of course) would have a great innovative industry in the sale of home testing kits!! But again, there are many commercial advantages related to complying with “evil” regulations. I should also mention, that we currently pay the FDA through taxes to do this work. True, a private firm could also do the work, but it would simply be another form of the word “tax”. Either way, we pay.

    Finally, it seems that many who demand freedom from regulation, really do so to hide there actions from public scrutiny. Take a look at the meltdown of our financial sector as an example of abusing the lack of regulation as a means of raping the American public. Freedom from regulation should not be interpreted as a license to steal.

  • http://www.openmarket.org/author/alex-harris/ AlexHarris

    One practical question – When I buy my new Windows 7 computer, how am I going to get Firefox and Chrome if I don't have a browser to download them with? Or is Microsoft just going to clutter my hard drive with MORE out-of-date-by-the-time-I-get-my-computer browsers?

  • Ryan Radia

    FTP or a USB stick, I suppose

  • http://www.openmarket.org/author/alex-harris/ AlexHarris

    Yeah, this is a very pro-Joe-Customer decision. The people who never download any alternative to IE will just LOVE having to use a friend's computer to stick an exe file on a USB key they'll also have to buy.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    There is an “obvious” solution. Microsoft could still include on its Window's CD the option to install Internet Explorer. If that is somehow contrary to the EU decision, Microsoft could provide a separate CD that ships with the Windows CD and contains Internet Explorer. In fact, Microsoft – as a gesture of good will – could even include other browsers on either the Windows CD or the separate CD containing the browsers. Issue solved.

  • Vlad

    Linux comes bundled with Firefox. Should EU prevent that too because it's “unnecessary”?

    I'm curious: if the OS comes without any internet browser how would you download the browser you like?

  • http://felter.org/ Wes Felter

    Note this line from MS: “Computer manufacturers will be able to add any browser they want to their Windows 7 machines, including Internet Explorer, so European consumers who purchase new PCs will be able to access the Internet without any problem.”

    Your new PC will have Chrome or Opera on it, because Google or Opera will pay a kickback to the PC manufacturer (see “craplets”).

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The FDA was thrown in the mix as an “evil” regulator that can also deny consumer choice. Does that mean that the consumer choice includes unsafe food?

    Two points:
    Sometime industries actually want regulation to get ride of a few bad apples who are essential free riding:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/a

    And then sometimes the government intervenes on behalf of industry to PREVENT food safety actions:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/d

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The FDA was thrown in the mix as an “evil” regulator that can also deny consumer choice. Does that mean that the consumer choice includes unsafe food?

    Two points:
    Sometime industries actually want regulation to get ride of a few bad apples who are essential free riding:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/a

    And then sometimes the government intervenes on behalf of industry to PREVENT food safety actions:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/d

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The FDA was thrown in the mix as an “evil” regulator that can also deny consumer choice. Does that mean that the consumer choice includes unsafe food?

    Two points:
    Sometime industries actually want regulation to get ride of a few bad apples who are essential free riding:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/a

    And then sometimes the government intervenes on behalf of industry to PREVENT food safety actions:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/d

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