Large corporations using a dominant market position is becoming a story as old as David taking his sling and stone to Goliath. Kaspersky is probably wishing it was as easy as purchasing a sling and finding a stone to take on Microsoft. Kaspersky has recently opened an antitrust suit against Microsoft with the European Commission and German Federal Cartel Office. This comes months after Kaspersky opened a similar case in its home country with the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS). The cases have raised questions as to whether Microsoft’s practices are ethical and not an attempt at creating a monopoly in the cyber security sector. It is not only Antivirus developers that are allegedly suffering but other independent suppliers who are complaining that they are been throttled by the OS giant.
Kaspersky has gone on record to say that Microsoft has moved to correct some of the issues listed in the complaint made with Russian authorities. This is despite Microsoft denying any wrongdoing. The issues fixed pertaining to the Russian complaint surrounded the Windows 10 insisting that the user’s computer was not safe if it used a third party antivirus. This would lead users to potentially only use Windows Defender which in turn would have a negative effect on independent developer’s, like Kaspersky’s, business. Central to this claim was a “Turn On” button which would lead user’s to believe that their system would be secure only if the button was clicked, even though there is a third party antivirus program installed.
The European complaint centers around how Windows Defender is heavily integrated into Windows 10 that it cannot be uninstalled by the user or even completely disabled. This used to be a separate program on previous versions of Windows and hence could be uninstalled for the user to use a preferred antivirus program. The second bone of contention between the Russian developer and Microsoft concerns how notifications do not appear warning the user that the current third party subscription in about to expire. Allegedly, these notifications appear in the Action Center but do not adequately draw the users attention to the soon to expire license.
The final issue raised in the complaint concerns when users upgrade an older version of Windows to 10. Once upgraded the user is informed that some drivers are incompatible with 10. As a result of this compatibility issue, Kaspersky is removed from the system. The user will then receive a notification informing that Kaspersky was removed and replaced with Defender as the main antivirus program. Kaspersky finds that the main problem is not necessarily the removal of their program but rather the length of time provided for Kaspersky to make sure and test their program is compatible. This was at two months, now it is two weeks. Kaspersky contends that this is not nearly enough time to ensure compatibility.
As to whether Kaspersky has a strong case would depend on Microsoft’s intention. If Microsoft does indeed intend to limit and even ban third party programs developed by independent developers, may be in the wrong. Antirust bodies may deem that Microsoft does not have legal right to limit or ban third party applications. As Google recently experienced, the fines imposed by such bodies are never cheap. In Google’s case the fine imposed was 9 billion USD and in this instance, Google’s supposed guilt may not be as cut and dry as Microsoft’s in this instance. Flagging sales of Windows 10 and the possibility a massive fine may result in Microsoft deciding to make the changes Kaspersky wants to see. Given Microsoft’s response to Kaspersky’s claims only time will tell.
Kaspersky initially stated:
“We want Microsoft to stop misleading and misinforming our -- and not only our -- users. We want to see all security solutions being able to work on the Windows platform on a level playing field. And we want to see users being able to decide for themselves what they want and consider important to them.”
Microsoft responded with what seems the standard corporate response:
“Microsoft’s primary objective is to keep customers protected and we are confident that the security features of Windows 10 comply with competition laws. We’re always interested in feedback from other companies and we engage deeply with antimalware vendors and have taken a number of steps to address their feedback. We reached out directly to Kaspersky a number of months ago offering to meet directly at an executive level to better understand their concerns, but that meeting has not yet taken place.”
Users Ultimately Suffer
If Microsoft can indeed throttle the competition not only in the cyber security sector but also the other independent developers it will ultimately be the user who will suffer. In the instance of Windows Defender, the program itself has not performed well in an independent test when compared to other antivirus developers. Denying users the choice in how best secure their systems may result in a small boost in profit, however, it may ultimately result in loss of trust in Microsoft and their products. This loss of trust if not addressed will result in users deciding to go to other OS suppliers, those being Mac, Linux, and Google Chrome. Through shortsightedness, Microsoft could be signing away its own future.
So the users will ultimately suffer and Microsoft could also ultimately struggle with future implications. There will probably be only one winner if this scenario. That winner been cyber criminals and other organized crime syndicates as all hackers need to do in concentrate on one system to get around.
For Eugene Kaspersky he feels Microsoft’s intentions are easy to figure out:
“(i) to try and get everyone to head over to the Windows Store; (ii) to levy an additional tax on independent developers; (iii) to strictly control who can do what; (iv) to suppress the competition with standardization and regulation; and (v) to further gradually take over the whole ecosystem – all to provide stable growth of profits”
Such tactics are the staple of totalitarian regimes. It is now up to antitrust bodies to decide if they are to form part of business tactics.