Kaspersky announced that it has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft for disabling its antivirus service with both the European Commission and the German Federal Cartel Office. The company had previously filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in its home country, Russia.
Is Microsoft Abusing Its Dominant Position (Again)?
Kaspersky argues that Microsoft has used its dominant position in the desktop operating system market to promote its own “inferior” security software at the expense of users’ previous “self-chosen” security solution. Kaspersky said that such promotion is made using questionable tactics, which it wants to bring to the attention of antitrust authorities.
According to Kaspersky, the earlier complaint in Russia has already led Microsoft to fix some of the issues that Kaspersky raised, despite Microsoft initially denying that it created anti-competitive conditions for third-party security solutions.
One of the questionable tactics Microsoft seems to have used is showing the Windows Defender status page in a way that made it seem like a PC wasn’t as safe as it could be because it was using an antivirus other than Microsoft’s own.
Another issue that Kaspersky raised is that the status page was also showing an orange button on which the words “Turn on” were written. Once again this made users believe that they weren’t secure unless they pressed that button and enabled Microsoft’s antivirus, even though a third-party antivirus was already enabled.
The Russian antivirus company also complained that Microsoft intended to allow only one third-party antivirus to remain active on a system. However, this limitation was ditched. All the other issues mentioned so far were also fixed following Kaspersky’s complaint to the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS).
Issues Not Yet Addressed
Kaspersky also complained about the fact that once upon a time Microsoft’s solution used to be a separate program you could install, just like any other third-party Windows application, but now it’s deeply integrated into Windows, to the point where home users can’t completely turn it off or delete it from their OS.
Kaspersky said that Microsoft is also limiting how the license expiration for third-party antivirus solutions is being shown on Windows, which reduced antivirus companies’ subscription revenues. Microsoft only allows the expiration notifications to appear through the new “Action Center,” which doesn’t seem to be that good (possibly on purpose) at drawing users’ attention.
One other issue that Microsoft hasn’t addressed, according to the antivirus company, is that when users are upgrading their older operating systems to Windows 10, the Kaspersky antivirus seems to “disappear,” as Microsoft eliminates some drivers in the process because they aren’t compatible with Windows 10.
Afterwards, Microsoft replaces the Kaspersky antivirus with its own Windows Defender. Microsoft only seems to give users a warning, in passing and in a less readable font, that the Kaspersky antivirus was disabled in the upgrade process.
The main problem Kaspersky has with this is not that Microsoft decided that Kaspersky is incompatible in an arbitrary manner, but that it has reduced the developer testing time for RTM versions from a previous two months to only two weeks. This doesn’t seem to be enough time for Kaspersky, and potentially other antivirus products, to properly ensure their products are compatible with the latest version of Windows.
Perhaps this also wouldn’t be a big issue if Windows didn’t eliminate or disable programs that were somehow not 100% compatible with the latest update. After all, if Microsoft did this to all programs, most games would probably stop working on Windows a couple of years after launch, once their developers stopped releasing patches for them.
It’s also a little ironic that Microsoft seems to give developers only two weeks to test their applications, when it has complained in the past that even three whole months weren’t enough to release a patch for a Google-disclosed security flaw.
Does Kaspersky Have A Strong Case?
We only have Kaspersky’s side of the story so far. The company does seem to raise some interesting issues, but not all of them may be backed by strong arguments. First off, it’s unclear whether Microsoft absolutely has to allow other antivirus products on its platform.
Just because this third-party antivirus market has existed in the past, may not necessarily give these companies a right to exist in the future. Here, we could take a look at how many companies Facebook has killed over the years, as it kept playing with its own platform rules. This issue may ultimately be decided by a court, if the case goes further, because it’s clearly not an easy question to answer.
Another example would be Google banning mobile app ad-blockers from its platform. No antitrust body has started an investigation on Google over this, even though Google is already part of an antitrust investigation in the European Union, albeit for different reasons.
Ideally, Windows wouldn’t need an antivirus solution at all, and with Windows 10’s mandatory updates, there may be less of a need for one in the future. However, the focus may switch to other type of security solutions, such as anti-exploit tools, virtualization sandboxes, and so on.
Kaspersky is probably right that having a single vendor offer security for a platform is not a good idea in the long term. Malware creators would love that to happen because it would be much easier and much more tempting to target a single security solution on which over a billion computers rely.
If Microsoft’s end goal is to ban third-party security solutions from Windows 10, then it may indeed be in the wrong here, even if it’s legally in the right to do so. However, given Microsoft’s dominance in the OS market, it’s possible that antitrust bodies may believe that Microsoft doesn’t have a legal right to unfairly limit or ban third-party security solutions from its platform, either.
The fact that Microsoft has already begun to fix some of the issues that Kaspersky has raised in the past, and that it even has to make use of “underhanded tactics,” as Kaspersky called them, shows that Microsoft may be aware that limiting third-party antivirus choices on its platform in a more direct way isn’t going to be taken lightly either by customers or government bodies.