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.”

15 comments for “EC Theme: Government Should Not Be Involved.”

  1. 1

    Dwayne Bailey said on February 17th, 2009 at 10:38 pm:

    1) A view often put forward when governments do something that the proponent of this position disagrees with. It a highly capitalist view that is shaped by where you come from not whether something is right or wrong.

    Governments remaining neutral and not promoting FOSS is the correct position for them to take using this argument. I’m wondering how many FOSS developers would agree? The resultant unbalanced environment is one that a government should simply let run because they mustn’t get involved in technology?

    2) I’m wondering if this is in some way shaped by seeing Mozilla as American?

    The much larger risk for me is what if the EC deliberation results in a negative conclusion that doesn’t help the open web. Will the same people be silent or a new quiet majority emerge that wonders why Mozilla did nothing?

    I think Mozilla being involved is critical for this to result in something that creates a healthier web into the future. An organisation that builds a web browser yet sees its main focus as not really being about a product is the very organisation that I want involved. I’m a cynic but I believe anyone else is fighting over market share points. Some want theirs to increase and others want to make sure that there’s don’t decrease. The people who suffered want to see the web grow and reach the potential that was held back by unscrupulous corporate behaviour.

  2. 2

    Ferdinand said on February 18th, 2009 at 12:32 am:

    The EC has shown that they don’t know what to do to stop MS from behaving anti competitive. The Windows N edition is a horrible ‘solution’ to the problem that WMP is much better integrated(preinstalled) then any competitor could ever manage. Windows should act as a base for user chosen applications and should not work better with MS applications. Mozilla should advise the EC on technical possibilities, ethical choices and the future of the web.

  3. 3

    Tristan said on February 18th, 2009 at 2:52 am:

    I’m playing the devil’s advocate here, so bear with me. Wehn people think that “technology companies should be exempt” of these antitrust laws, it’s probably because technology moves *very* quickly compared to the time it takes to make a decision for a government, and that most governments don’t understand technology at large.

    This is exactly why, IMHO, that Mozilla should be involved with the EC: in order to provide expertise so that the remedy is a good one.

  4. 4

    David Boswell said on February 18th, 2009 at 8:37 am:

    I think it’s worthwhile to appreciate that governments actually have been the source of a tremendous amount of innovation. They’ve had a hand in developing or evolving a long list of technologies (radar, nuclear energy, GPS, adaptive optics, computers…).

    If we accepted the assumption that governments are inept and are best avoided, then we’d be missing out on bringing in a new partner to help us with our community’s goals.

    That’s not to say that I want to EC to dictate web standards, but I’d like us to accept that governments have something to offer and can make useful members of the community. Remember, at one point there was an assumption that for-profit companies had nothing to offer open source and then Mozilla came along…

  5. 5

    sethb said on February 19th, 2009 at 7:39 am:

    Perhaps this is a minor side point, but I agree with David Boswell’s point above. You stated above:

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

    Many may not like how it has used its technology, but the United States Government, through its Department of Defense and other agencies, has been a pretty relevant source of technology over its history.

    Here is an interesting article on Wikipedia:

  6. 6

    mitchell said on February 19th, 2009 at 8:21 am:

    Interesting point re governmnet and technology; I’ll go look.


  7. 7

    Boo Hoo said on February 19th, 2009 at 11:26 am:

    technologically challenged people speak like you

  8. 8

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  9. 9

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  10. 10

    Antitrust Pick Varney Saw Google as Next Microsoft said on February 20th, 2009 at 12:44 am:

    Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) — Christine A. Varney, nominated by President Barack Obama to be the U.S.’s next antitrust chief, has described Google Inc. as a monopolist that will dominate online computing services the way Microsoft Corp. ruled software.

    “For me, Microsoft is so last century. They are not the problem,” Varney said at a June 19 panel discussion sponsored by the American Antitrust Institute. The U.S. economy will “continually see a problem — potentially with Google” because it already “has acquired a monopoly in Internet online advertising,” she said.

    While the remarks were made months before Obama picked her to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division, the comments signal her approach to the job if confirmed by the Senate. The Microsoft case, brought in 1998 by the Clinton administration, could have led to the breakup of the software giant and was a landmark in antitrust law.

    In her remarks at the American Antitrust Institute, Varney advocated aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws to curb the conduct of individual companies that dominate an industry. She didn’t return a reporter’s telephone call seeking comment today.

    White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that Obama nominated Varney “to vigorously enforce the law” and “is confident that she can do so in a fact-specific and evenhanded way with every matter she will face.”

    Lobbying for Netscape

    Varney, 53, lobbied the Clinton administration on behalf of Netscape Communications Corp. to urge antitrust enforcers to sue Microsoft. She had previously been a member of the Federal Trade Commission under the administration of President Bill Clinton where she became an advocate of online privacy.

    Her comments on Google last year combined praise for the company along with her warnings. The Mountain View, California- based company, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, is a “spectacular” innovator that became the dominant online advertiser through “terrific work,” Varney said.

    She also said Google had “lawfully” obtained its monopoly.


  11. 11

    Iang said on February 20th, 2009 at 1:20 am:

    On your post, point 1: This is “whatever.” The state of the world pertains, and it is reasonable for Mozilla to have an understanding of how anti-trust effects it. That isn’t a reason to participate.

  12. 12

    Iang said on February 20th, 2009 at 1:21 am:

    On this: “2. Mozilla should not get involved with the EC.”

    2.a the first para is easily dismissed. Hopefully.

    2.b the second para: sure, it is good to see what is happening. Your challenge is to follow events and perhaps provide perspective without being biased, and/or as importantly, without being seen to be biased. Given your statements here endorsing the results of anti-trust investigations, that’s looking like a tough challenge.

    2.c Third para: whether Microsoft has done anything illegal. This is the jurisdiction of the EC, not Mozilla, and is not a reason for Mozilla to “get involved.” It more properly belongs in point 1.

    It appears that significant bias is building up or being revealed. Maybe this is a foregone conclusion, maybe there is a skeleton in the closet, and Mozilla has no choice, it is already involved. It can happen, I know.

    However, the danger of having picked a side is now apparent. The challenge is how to sit on one side, and stick to the manifesto. Nothing in the manifesto suggests to me that we ally ourselves with big players, or against other big players. People like Mozilla because they appear to be independent, appear to be “above” the unseemly fight of the clumsy giants.

  13. 13

    Asa Dotzler said on February 20th, 2009 at 1:42 am:

    “People like Mozilla because they appear to be independent, appear to be “above” the unseemly fight of the clumsy giants.”

    Lang, you should be more careful about claiming to know what “people” like about Mozilla. There are 250-300 million of those people in the world today and I doubt that you’ve got any special insight into what they all like.

    It would be completely reasonable for you to speak for yourself, and maybe even some small group of people you associate with, but it’s pretty arrogant to pretend to speak for hundreds of millions.

  14. 14

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  15. 15

    Robert E. Darling said on February 28th, 2009 at 10:38 pm:

    I am 65 years of age and I have greatly admired the accomplishments of individuals involved in technology of any kind. I spent 36 years as a Medical Technologist registered with the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). I guess you could say technology has been my life. I have seen the gains and advantages of level field competition and I have seen the mud and slow down when someone is trying to shove it down your throat. My current fear of loosing the freedoms to compete will come from our new president of the United States. I am feeling that he will allow competition as long as the government is in charge and will get their share of the gains. (their share is 0) I have never been as terrified of a nations government as I am now with our own.

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