Microsoft seeks EU Digital Market Acts exemption for underdog apps like Edge

Vivaldi boss calls for browser choice and warns that Redmond might be deflating usage figures

Exclusive The European Commission is looking into Microsoft's request to remove Bing, Edge, and Microsoft Ads from the Digital Markets Act (DMA), and at least one rival has claimed the company is not playing fair.

A Microsoft spokesperson told The Register: "We accept our designation as a gatekeeper under the Digital Markets Act and will continue to work with the European Commission to meet the obligations imposed on Windows and LinkedIn under the DMA.

"We welcome the Commission's decision to open a market investigation to consider our application to exempt Bing, Edge, and Microsoft Ads – which operate as challengers in the market – from the DMA."

"Microsoft is basically fighting it," said Vivaldi CEO Jon von Tetzchner in an interview with The Register.

"They're trying to argue that they shouldn't be designated … Microsoft is claiming, basically, that Edge has so little market share that they don't matter.

"I would claim that, more or less, every Windows user ends up using Edge at least once a month whether they want to or not. It is kind of … you get tricked into using it all the time."

Microsoft would doubtless take issue with that argument. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the browser. Von Tetzchner cited the desktop search bar that slithered its way into Windows as one example of users being directed to a platform with no straightforward way of switching to a different provider.

"It gets complicated if you have Windows designated as a gatekeeper and Edge not designated as a gatekeeper."

Von Tetzchner commented on the methods he reckoned Microsoft was using to demonstrate that the usage of its products was not high enough to merit the designation: "They're trying to use Statcounter as a source of information about browser usage."

Statcounter is focused on page views. The EC, on the other hand, is more interested in user counts rather than market share. We should also be clear that Microsoft has yet to comment on what its lawyers put in its filing.

"Now, I think you'll agree that what you normally count on the internet is users, monthly users," von Tetzchner said.

"So Microsoft is trying to get away from that and just using a very low number and in doing so trying to basically make the argument since their usage is so low that the rules shouldn't apply to Edge or Bing."

Warming to his theme, Von Tetzchner noted other ways that users were nudged Edgewards at the expense of alternatives – such as his company's Vivaldi browser.

"If you look at what Microsoft has been doing recently, with basically pushing ads extensively, taking over the default browser, making it really hard to set default, potentially making it harder to install and be visible on the platform … there's just a lot of things that they're doing."

We should be clear that it is possible to change the default browser within Windows, although the process is perhaps not the easiest to follow, particularly considering the plaintive cries from Edge at nearly every step of the way.

Von Tetzchner contrasted Microsoft's approach with that of Google. "My impression is that Google wants to kind of follow the rules, on other hand, trying to find their best way to make them less effective," he said.

Unsurprisingly, Von Tetzchner also had harsh words about Apple, whose restrictions have meant that the iOS version of Vivaldi has had to be based on WebKit. He foresaw a future where companies could use alternative app stores or download directly. "So I think the Digital Markets Act has the potential to make a pretty massive difference across the board."

In the meantime, the prospect of browser choice has once again reared its head, and not just on Windows. "I think you want the choice screen to be served up as early as possible," said Von Tetzchner, "so not coming up sometimes later, when you're trying to start the browser ... and then a choice screen would get in your way.

"And then it's a question of: Are the choices visible? Do you see all the choices? Are there enough descriptions so you can actually make a choice based on not just some logos and the like." ®

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