Mozilla

EC Theme: Government Should Not Be Involved.

February 17th, 2009

This theme actually has two related topics.

1. Government shouldn’t get involved with technology.

There’s no disagreement that technology is best developed by technologists and entrepreneurs rather than government.

Government does have a role to play in consumer protection. Governments regulate the formation of companies, they require disclosure for some companies, they regulate the quality of products. Some governments also protect consumers by identifying certain kinds of competitive activities as unacceptable.

One could say that competition laws in general are bad, or competition laws relating to monopolies are bad. Maybe that’s what the comments are saying. But when these laws exist, I don’t understand the argument that technology companies should be exempt.

2. Mozilla should not get involved with the EC.

I wonder if this argument stems from the belief that the EC will reverse course if Mozilla doesn’t get involved. This is flattering in a way, but it doesn’t reflect our experience. The EC has been looking at this case December of 2007 when Opera filed its complaint. The EC has made its decision to move forward without Mozilla involvement and it seems wildly speculative to me to think the EC depends on Mozilla.

This argument may also be a way of expressing concern over the potential remedies. As I noted in a prior post, I think it’s deeply unwise for Mozilla to sit out the remedy discussions and learn what the EC is thinking after a final decision.

It’s also possible this argument stems from the idea that Microsoft hasn’t done anything except compete. If one rejects the idea that there is any limit on corporate competitive behavior this idea makes sense. If one accepts that corporations — just like individual human beings — face some restrictions in how they pursue their competitive goals, then the picture of Microsoft’s activities that emerges becomes quite different.

Microsoft did not obtain its IE hegemony solely through competition on the merits of IE. A number of illegal activities were also involved in creating IE’s market dominence. At the end of this post I’ve included below some very brief excerpts from the US District Court Finding of Facts that describe some of these activities.

One might still wonder what the EC should do today as a result. But the idea that Microsoft is an innocent victim is deeply flawed.

” . . . Microsoft has done much more than develop innovative browsing software of commendable quality and offer it bundled with Windows at no additional charge. . . . . Microsoft forced those consumers who otherwise would have elected Navigator as their browser to either pay a substantial price (in the forms of downloading, installation, confusion, degraded system performance, and diminished memory capacity) or content themselves with Internet Explorer. . . . The ultimate result is that some innovations that would truly benefit consumers never occur for the sole reason that they do not coincide with Microsoft’s self-interest.”

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