Wired News is reporting what appears to be some nasty tactics relating to a Microsoft-funded organization that has been loudly proclaiming the company’s innocence of wrongdoing. Someone offered money for the trash generated by the “Association for Competitive Technology.”
I have little respect for ACT, which gives all appearances of being a puppet. But this kind of sleazy stuff is beyond the pale.
Whether this activity has been engineered by Microsoft’s competitors or someone else, it’s disgusting. Apparently it’s legal, however, which is just as bad.
AOL Pretends on Open Instant Messaging
America Online enjoys massive dominance in instant messaging, those incredibly useful online “buddy lists.” Like Microsoft in the PC operating systems market, AOL jealously guards its monopoly.
Over the past year, AOL has blocked efforts by several other companies that want their own instant-messaging systems to inter-operate with AOL’s. Despite claims that it wants to find common ground with messaging wannabes, AOL has done little but stall — and it continues to block competitors.
On Thursday, AOL joined other interested parties in submitting proposals for open instant-messaging standards to the Internet Engineering Task Force That’s progress. But it’s hard to tell, after reading AOL’s submission to the standards-setting body, whether it’s truly serious about working with others in this market. The company’s track record doesn’t inspire confidence.
In fact, the evidence suggests AOL is trying to gain further control. Currently, instant messages go from one user’s computer to another, with AOL’s servers acting as a kind of directory service. Your IM client software notifies AOL that you’re online, and it tells your “buddies” accordingly.
Now, if I read this correctly, AOL wants your actual messages to go through its servers — all apparently in the name of security. IM competitors could be part of the system, but AOL would own the directory. This is a monopolist’s ploy.
AOL may have to get serious soon. The Federal Trade Commission, which is examining the competitive aspects of the company’s proposed buyout of media giant Time Warner, is looking into the instant-messaging monopoly. If consumers are lucky, the FTC will persuade AOL to do the right thing.
Why does this matter? Because instant messaging is not just about sending little bits of text around the Net. It’s a communications method of enormous value. It has the potential to rival the telephone as connection speeds and other parts of the system improve. If AOL owns what amounts to the phone directory of the future — the logon information for all of the instant-messaging users — it will have an unprecedented advantage.
Consumers would be much better off if the AOL buyout of Time Warner was disallowed entirely. But that’s apparently not in the cards. Let’s hope the feds force AOL to behave less like a monopolist.