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October 2, 2012

Consumer Marketing Giants Spank Microsoft over IE10 "Do Not Track"

Posted by David Hunter at 2:46 PM ET.

P&G, Walmart, Coke And 30 Other Huge Advertisers Just Humiliated Microsoft

The chief marketing officers of Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Ford, Verizon, Coca Cola, Unilever, General Electric, American Express, Kraft and 30 other companies signed a letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, complaining about the "do not track" (DNT) function planned for Internet Explorer 10.
IE10 will launch with a default DNT position, preventing consumers from being targeted by advertisers. The letter was timed to rain on Microsoft’s parade at Advertising Week, at which it launched new native ad products for Windows 8 and a redesigned MSN.
It is rare for advertisers to publicly criticize the media sellers they deal with. It’s rarer still for them to time their criticism to inflict maximum PR damage. And it’s rarest of all for them to band together — even with competitors — and sign a statement against a marketing partner that takes billions of their dollars.
The letter is thus the most humiliating form of public dressing-down Microsoft could have received from its clients.

I really hate to break it to the Web advertising bigwigs, but Microsoft is on the side of the angels on this one. The only thing more annoying than ads following me from site to site are the constant requests that I "like" some company or product on Facebook. Those that feel lonely without be tracked by ravenous Web marketers can always opt-in, just like with email advertising or Facebook. Very few consumers will do that, of course, which is why the big Web advertisers are having the vapors. Don’t worry guys, you can always besiege us with admonitions to "please let us track you" just like you do with Facebook.

(First version lightly edited.)

Filed under IE10, Internet Explorer, Legal, Microsoft, Privacy

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September 18, 2012

Microsoft hit with zero-day exploit of Internet Explorer, urges security tool download

Posted by David Hunter at 3:35 PM ET.

Microsoft urges customers to install security tool

Microsoft Corp urged Windows users on Monday to install a free piece of security software to protect PCs from a newly discovered bug in the Internet Explorer browser.

The security flaw, which researchers say could allow hackers to take remote control of an infected PC, affects Internet Explorer browsers used by hundreds of millions of consumers and workers. Microsoft said it will advise customers on its website to install the security software as an interim measure, buying it time to fix the bug and release a new, more secure version of Internet Explorer.

The free security tool, which is known as the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit, or EMET, is available on Microsoft’s website:

Eric Romang, a researcher in Luxembourg, discovered the flaw in Internet Explorer on Friday, when his PC was infected by a piece of malicious software known as Poison Ivy that hackers use to steal data or take remote control of PCs.

When he analyzed the infection, he learned that Poison Ivy had gotten on to his system by exploiting a previously unknown bug, or "zero-day" vulnerability, in Internet Explorer.

Full security advisory is here and only IE 7, 8, and 9 on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are known to be at risk. Internet Explorer 10 is apparently not a problem.

Frankly, EMET isn’t a magic shield and it’s a tool that only geeks can love. The bottom line from the above article:

Dave Marcus, director of advanced research and threat intelligence with Intel Corp’s McAfee security division, said it might be a daunting task for home users to locate, download and install the EMET tool.

"For consumers it might be easier to simply click on Chrome," Marcus said.

Business users will have their own problems with it too.

Filed under IE10, IE7, IE8, IE9, Internet Explorer, Microsoft, Security, Zero-Day Exploits

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December 16, 2009

EU Drops Microsoft Browser Antitrust Case; Microsoft To Provide Choice Screen Update

Posted by David Hunter at 8:11 AM ET.

The European Union Competition Commission today dropped their Web browser antitrust case against Microsoft after final agreement was reached on Microsoft providing a Web browser choice to EU Windows users:

The European Commission has adopted a decision that renders legally binding commitments offered by Microsoft to boost competition on the web browser market. The commitments address Commission concerns that Microsoft may have tied its web browser Internet Explorer to the Windows PC operating system in breach of EU rules on abuse of a dominant market position (Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union -TFEU). Microsoft commits to offer European users of Windows choice among different web browsers and to allow computer manufacturers and users the possibility to turn Internet Explorer off. Microsoft is also publishing today an undertaking whereby it commits to make far-reaching interoperability disclosures.

I haven’t yet seen the Microsoft "interoperability undertaking" which is supposed to be published today, but that harks back to the previous EU Microsoft antitrust case where interoperability disclosures were a perennial source of contention. As for the browser choice, here’s how the EU says it will work if you are a EU Windows user:

  • [Affects] More than 100 million European users of Windows operating systems (XP, Vista, 7, and successors) and many millions more in the future.

  • You will be offered a ‘browser Choice Screen’ where you can freely choose one (or more) of the 12 most popular web browsers, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Opera.
  • Each browser will be accompanied by information from the producer, to help you – the customer – make a free and informed choice.
  • If you have Microsoft’s web browser set as your default browser and have chosen to ‘automatically accept Windows updates’, you will be automatically directed to the ‘Choice Screen’. If updates are not automatically installed, you will be offered an option to confirm you want to receive the Choice Screen update.

  • The browser Choice Screen software update will start in March 2010.
  • The Choice Screen update will be available for 5 years.

This strikes me as a smart move on Microsoft’s part. Butting heads with the Neelie Kroes has proven to be be a no-win strategy and offering the choice screen is cheap and more cynically, will likely not discernibly affect the market share of Internet Explorer. Yes IE’s share is dropping in Europe and elsewhere, but my impression is that any PC user savvy enough to want another Web browser can already find it without a choice screen. So, the Eurocrats are now happy and Microsoft has dodged another expensive legal bullet.

UPDATE: Microsoft’s Brad Smith, Senior Vice President and General Counsel has issued a statement and besides discussing the choice screen, details the "interoperability undertaking":

The second measure is a “public undertaking” that covers interoperability with Microsoft’s products—the way our high-share products work with non-Microsoft technologies. This applies to an important set of Microsoft’s products—our Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint products. We believe it represents the most comprehensive commitment to the promotion of interoperability in the history of the software industry. Under this undertaking, Microsoft will ensure that developers throughout the industry, including in the open source community, will have access to technical documentation to assist them in building products that work well with Microsoft products. Microsoft will also support certain industry standards in its products and fully document how these standards are supported. Microsoft will make available legally-binding warranties that will be offered to third parties.

Our interoperability undertaking reflects the policy outlined by the European Commission in a major policy speech given by Commissioner Neelie Kroes in June 2008. At that time, the Commissioner said that companies offering high-share software products should be required to (i) disclose technical specifications to enable interoperability; (ii) ensure that competitors can access complete and accurate information and have a remedy if not; and (iii) ensure that the technical specifications are available at fair royalty rates, based on the inherent value of the technology disclosed. Our interoperability undertaking, developed through extensive consultation, implements this approach in full.

As we’ve said before, we are embarking on a path that will require significant change within Microsoft. Nevertheless, we believe that these are important steps that resolve these competition law concerns.

Click through for a host of Microsoft documents including the Microsoft Public Undertaking (Word file) itself. This is being overshadowed in the news by the browser choice screen, but I suspect the interoperability agreement is more important. I have not read the fine print yet or seen the Open Source reaction, but I hope that the EU Competition Commission and Microsoft really and truly understand each other on this topic or things could get quite unpleasant.

Filed under Antitrust, General Business, Governmental Relations, Internet Explorer, Legal, Microsoft

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July 26, 2009

Microsoft offers the EU a browser and interoperability deal

Posted by David Hunter at 2:07 PM ET.

Late last Friday, the European Competition Commission revealed that they are assessing a new Microsoft offer to resolve their browser competition complaint. Instead of Microsoft’s earlier plan to ship no Web browser at all with Windows 7 in the EU, Microsoft has offered to provide EU users of Windows XP and Vista as well as Windows 7 with a "ballot screen" with download links for the 5 most popular alternative browsers.

There are more details in the attachments to the Microsoft press release describing the proposal, but the basic idea is to provide current and easy download and installation links for the Web illiterate who can’t manage to find them on their own. Congratulations to Microsoft for trying to sidestep the black hole of actually shipping third party code. The EU seems to have a much more positive view of this proposal than the "no browser" plan, so Microsoft may actually get away with it.

In case you wondering, Microsoft’s "no browser in EU versions of Windows 7" plan is still the plan of record until the European Commission accepts this new offer.

Getting far less press, but also significant was that Microsoft is also offering more interoperability information for its software including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint. That is spelled out in the attachments to the press release too and takes two forms:

The latter is apparently intended to address the second part of Opera’s original EU browser complaint that Internet Explorer was noncompliant with Web standards. It will be interesting to see whether this part of Microsoft’s offer will satisfy the Eurocrats, but I would bet that documentation of noncompliance will not be enough.

I also wonder whether "trustbusters" in the USA and elsewhere outside Europe might not also want to jump on the bandwagon and ask for the same terms as whatever settlement is reached in Europe.

Filed under Antitrust, General Business, Governmental Relations, IE7, IE8, Internet Explorer, Legal, Microsoft, Standards

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