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Microsoft Threatens Startups Over Account Info 156

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the strong-arm-of-the-law dept.
HangingChad writes "According to Fortune, there are reports that Microsoft is trying to strong arm startups to give preferential treatment to MSN Messenger and are using account information as leverage. 'If the company wants to offer other IM services (from Yahoo, Google or AOL, say), Messenger must get top billing. And if the startup wants to offer any other IM service, it must pay Microsoft 25 cents a user per year for a site license.' Of course, if the company is willing to use Messenger exclusively 'fee will be discounted 100 percent.' Getting detailed information is difficult as many of the companies being approached are afraid of reprisals."
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Microsoft Threatens Startups Over Account Info

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  • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:38AM (#22107944) Homepage
    All the social networking companies are playing this game. The only difference is that when Microsoft points a lawyer at you, they are loaded.

    Open Identity systems such as OpenID are the way to go. But how do we break open the proprietary lock? Tim Berners-Lee told me to look at FOAF but we still need to complete the integration into the authentication systems.

    • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:49AM (#22107992) Homepage
      Bad form to follow up one's post, but when I said the companies were all playing the same game, I meant the lock in game. The tactics are different but the idea is the same: the social networking company owns the contacts and the data.

      You can export your links to other people in these schemes but the inbound links point in the same place, you can take your data but not your network.

      One step forward here is that Google blogger has at last allowed people to use their own domain name with their blog. So you can move your blog to a different host if you please.

    • by Enlightenment (1073994) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:50AM (#22107994)
      I think this quote says quite a lot: "We want to make sure our data is kept between our users and our servers." "Our data"? Is that even a legal position to take? It's sure as hell not intuitively obvious that they should be able to consider data theirs just because they're the ones who keep track of it.
      • by mangu (126918) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @10:23AM (#22108216)

        "Our data"? Is that even a legal position to take? It's sure as hell not intuitively obvious that they should be able to consider data theirs just because they're the ones who keep track of it.

        An interesting position, if we the people would be allowed to claim it. Since I'm the keeper of the information in my computer, does it mean I own the intellectual property?!...


        Yes, I know, there's a difference between "data" an "information". But my list of contacts isn't something that arose spontaneously, we aren't talking about phone books here. I worked for years to meet all the people in my list. That's information that has been carefully collected and organized, it's not like taking a list of everybody who lives in a city and ordering by last name.


        That list of contacts is *MY* data, *MY* property and *I* should have the final word about it!

        • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @04:20PM (#22111478)

          That list of contacts is *MY* data, *MY* property and *I* should have the final word about it!
          You would think so, wouldn't you? On the other hand, I wonder what the EULA / TOS that WIM users clicked right through without reading has to say about it.

          Perhaps all your lists are belonging to them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by KillerCow (213458)

          That list of contacts is *MY* data, *MY* property and *I* should have the final word about it!


          Not when you store it on *MY* server. If you want to retain control of your data, then don't give it to me.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Pat69 (588497)

            Not when you store it on *MY* server. If you want to retain control of your data, then don't give it to me.
            So if I were to host web sites on your servers, you would own the content on my sites?

            Interesting...
      • by jav1231 (539129)
        It's their data, we're their customers. How dare anyone try to gain market share in their market? Wooing their users? This story illustrates nearly everything that's wrong with Microsoft.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jdevivre (923797)

        "Our data"? Is that even a legal position to take?

        You know, I was all ready to "hear hear" that sentiment, and then I thought of the Postal Service. The content of a letter is mine (keep it simple and bypass copyright, etc), but the responsibility of delivery is theirs. They can't lose it, have it stolen, altered, copied or viewed by anyone (again, simplify) without "failing" their purpose. Same goes for the IM handlers, I guess. Having control over the in- and out- points, along with the channels between is just easier to meet the responsibilities.

    • by Divebus (860563) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:59AM (#22108050)
      Same old head crushers. Are you watching this DOJ? Oh, it's not a threat... it's a choice. An anti-competitive, locked in, service bundling, vendor threatening choice - in the name of beter "security". Puleeeez. We've seen this behavior before and I hope this blows up in their face worse than last time.
  • Heavy Foot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mfh (56) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:39AM (#22107952) Journal
    Microsoft has always had a heavy foot, but waiving fees for those who cut out the competition requires another solution.

    Drop Microsoft! Just drop them. Stop using them. They are old anyway. Let's come up with something NEW!

    Backfires inc!
    • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:59AM (#22108048) Homepage
      "Drop Microsoft! Just drop them"

      You're actually suggesting there are viable substitutes for Hotmail?!@!?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rucs_hack (784150)
      Like it or not, they are a major IM provider.

      I'm not an MS fan, but this sort of thing does irritate me. They are *not* strongarming startups. What they are doing is trying to find ways of monetizing their services. These services are free to end users, but why should they be free for other businesses to use? I can't see why. How is it reasonable to use another companies product to make money without paying for that usage? Only if the company wants it to be used for free, and Microsoft doesn't. That's their
      • Re:Heavy Foot (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyYar (622222) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @10:12AM (#22108146)

        What they are doing is trying to find ways of monetizing their services.
        All well and good if they weren't shipping the product free with their monopoly OS. They have to play by different rules than everyone else, because no one else has a monopoly to leverage.
        • and, naturally, if they weren't being deceitful
          Submitted this to the original article; no idea if it'll show up.

          I think rob/ahoutx/maddawg are missing the point. Exclusivity and top billing have nothing to do with security.

          MS COULD demand certain security measures or, more uniformly, require the service to send the user to MSN where they must agree to a warning about how this startup may do lord knows to their info. It should be up to the user.

          Keep in mind that if this article is accurate, they are NOT do
      • Your hotmail contacts are a data set. Reading them, even automagically using technology that was boring in 1975, is not a service but a natural human faculty.

        "And besides, 25 cents per user per year?"

        Not a huge number, but "25 cents per user per year per relevant dataset" would be a dealbreaker for every startup I know.
      • by Znork (31774)
        "What they are doing is trying to find ways of monetizing their services."

        Um, no. They're monetizing people using _other_ companies services. You get it for free if you _only_ offer the MS service, you have to pay to if you want to offer someone elses service.

        Best thing to do is to just hang up on them if they call. It's not a company that will ever learn, and history shows that any deals made with Microsoft has only one winner and it ain't you.
      • by thegnu (557446)
        yeah, I'm not sure what they're charging for.

        Oh, by the way, dude: If I sell you a computer, and you then purchase hardware from someone other than me, you must pay me 25 cents per person-device-year. Sounds pretty fucking stupid to me. But I suppose if businesses want to do business with people like Microsoft, it serves them right.
    • I'm kind of surprised that this doesn't trigger some kind of investigation into further attempts at continuing their monopoly presence in the marketplace. I'd love to shoot Judge Kollar-Kotelly myself over the bad decision-making that happened with the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. With each and every little trick that gets exposed, the further I pull away from ever considering using their products for anything at all. If it weren't for the work I'm doing in medical transcription, with a VBscript app
    • Good bait for discussion, and always a fun topic! Many (most?) of us here already have dropped Microsoft. I'm not anit-Microsoft, I'm pro-Microsoft. Any company beating up the world with a US based monopoly is a company I want to stay strong. I don't happen to use any Microsoft products because they don't suit my needs as well as Linux, and I'm busy warping my children's minds by cutting their teeth on Ubuntu, Open Office, and FOSS games. I also taught them basic shapes as children: circle, square, tri
  • Quote from the Fortune article: "This is a great example of why Google is the leader ... and Microsoft is not..."

    Microsoft: Do evil if evil makes money? Or, Microsoft: Evil is our most important product, making money is secondary?
    • by Adambomb (118938)
      Nah, the Venn of Evil and Making Money overlaps.

      not EQUAL sets maybe, but a good chunk of intersection =).
    • From what limited inside knowledge I have, the motto is "Make money." Evil has nothing to do with it, aside from the fact that the overwhelming desire to make lots and lots of money can be thoroughly evil. "Love of money is the root of all evil", Ecclesiastes something or other, or maybe something else. Not entirely true, since there's other evils, but at least there's a pretty old and possibly authoritative principle here.

      • Actually the quote from Ecclesiastes is "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." The missing word is quite significant. For some reason it's one of the most often misquoted scriptures.

        • My apologies, thank you for the correction. The usual form I see is "Money is the root of all evil", which is even farther from the original.

        • by FlexAgain (26958)

          gmack said:
          Actually the quote from Ecclesiastes is "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." The missing word is quite significant. For some reason it's one of the most often misquoted scriptures.

          ...and is apparently often misattributed as well, since that quote comes from Timothy 6:10, not Ecclesiastes.

        • by alext (29323)
          Not Ecclesiastes, Timothy 6:10.

          And of course translations differ, I see one does actually omit the "missing" word here. [scripturetext.com]

      • Parallel Translations of 1 Timothy 6-10 [bible.cc]:

        "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." -- New American Standard Bible [scripturetext.com]

        "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows." -- American Standard Version [asvbible.com]

        But most of the other translations leave out "all kinds of" and say "al
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I seem to recall that a few years back (quite a few years back) His Gateness was being quited in computing press as deriding other businessmen for their "merely finite" greed.
      • From the New York Times September 3, 1995 article Running on the Fastest Track [nytimes.com]: "Gates, suddenly reassured, interrupted, 'So they have finite greed.' " Finite greed, it seems, is a term of derision in the Gates vernacular.

        It seems that Bill Gates is admired for only one thing, being the richest person. I have never heard of anyone admiring Bill Gates for anything else. Apparently people don't want to be him.
        • by afidel (530433)
          How about being the biggest philanthropist in the history of mankind? He's built one of the largest fortunes in history and is giving essentially ALL of it away, and he's convinced the second richest man to join him. If something truly useful doesn't come out of that foundation then I weep for humanity for then there truly is very little hope for the poor and downtrodden.
          • I really, really hope so. However, can you name one thing Bill Gates has done that was purely good? Everything that he has done, apparently, has had the hidden intention of being adversarial toward the user. Bill Gates has been VERY self- and other-destructive.

            Companies like Microsoft and Coca-Cola have found that pretending to be charitable is a very good way to get people to ignore their extremely predatory business practices, in my opinion.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:53AM (#22108016) Journal
    why are they still playing with MS? MS will ALWAYS pull these illegal actions. All the companies have to do is quit playing in MS's back yard.

    What amazes me, is that MS does not buy companies who are on their platform. They just strongarm them and steal as be needed. Instead, they buy companies who could represent a threat to their platform or are making money hand over fist (the 2 tend to go hand in hand). So, by being in Windows, a startup not only pays much higher costs, but they also kill off a huge chunk of the market that would otherwise drive up their price, and then subject themselves to MS's hand.
    • Back at the peaceful Simpsons house. Homer is reading "Internet for Dummies".

      HOMER
      Oh, they have the Internet on computers now!

      MARGE
      Homer, Bill Gates is here.

      HOMER
      Bill Gates?! Millionaire computer nerd Bill Gates! Oh my god. Oh my god. Get out of sight, Marge. I don't want this to look like a two-bit operation.

      Marge groans and rolls her eyes. Bill Gates and two "associates" enter.

      GATES
      Mr. Simpson?

      HOMER
      You don't look so rich.

      GATES
      Don't let the haircut fool you, I am exceedingly wealthy.

      HOMER
      (quietly to Marge)
  • by nbauman (624611) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @09:56AM (#22108026) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    Hall said that Microsoft's main concern, and the reason it sent out Big Foot letters in the first place, was security.
    Well, of course. Think of the children.
  • Mess them up! (Score:3, Informative)

    by baadger (764884) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @10:01AM (#22108068)
    Now seems like a good time to put in a plug for the Mess.be [www.mess.be] Mess Patch [patch.mess.be], which can strip out all the bloat, all the ads and all the 'extra services and features' that come with Windows Live Messenger and leave you with a relatively clean and usable client.

    On a somewhat related note, have Vista users noticed the new 'Live' programs available optionally through Windows Update?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BenoitRen (998927)
      Or you could, you know, use an alternative client to access the MSN network.
    • On a somewhat related note, have Vista users noticed the new 'Live' programs available optionally through Windows Update?

      No...? I've just had a thorough look around the Vista Windows Update window, and there's nothing in there at all about Live programs. I've only ever had updates for Windows. What exactly are you referring to?

      (There is a link which says "Get updates for more products" which takes you to a page where you can download Microsoft update (as opposed to Windows updated) which presumably would give you updates to Live products, but you have to actively choose to install that).

      • by baadger (764884)
        I've worked it out, essentially if you install Windows Live Messenger you have to untick a tonne of boxes in the installer to avoid installing other "Live" software (I forget the names, I haven't booted into Vista in a while). These then appear if you subscribe to "Microsoft Update" (which is useful for updating Office etc)
        • I've subscribed to Microsoft Update, and downloaded Live Messenger. Still not sure what you're talking about. Using Vista's handy spotlight-like-search-in-the-start-menu, Windows Live Messenger is the only thing with 'Live' in its name that I can find.
  • Anal ogy (Score:5, Funny)

    by fulldecent (598482) * on Saturday January 19, 2008 @10:02AM (#22108078) Homepage
    A piece of software without MSN integration is like a dog without bricks tied around its neck.
  • They should have been broken up after being found a monopoly. There is little to stop them from doing things like this.
  • Parity Error (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NullProg (70833) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @10:41AM (#22108352) Homepage Journal
    We put the question to Brian Hall, general manager for Windows Live. "We want the user to be in control of their stuff," he told me. "We believe strongly that it's the user's data, it's the user's choice."

    Oh really? What about Secure Audio Path and the other draconian DRM measures in Windows.

    Microsoft must be running for public office. Say one thing, do another.

    Enjoy,
    • by Sentry21 (8183)

      Oh really? What about Secure Audio Path and the other draconian DRM measures in Windows.
      No, in that case the user whose control they're ensuring isn't you. They simply ensure control for everyone, no matter where that data is, or who's trying to use it for whatever (legal) reasons.
    • by jc42 (318812)
      Microsoft must be running for public office. Say one thing, do another.

      Heh. Actually, they (i.e., their top officers) don't seem to be running for any public office. But they are giving a lot of "campaign contributions" (aka legal bribery) to politicians who are.

      The textbook example is the 2000 US election. Before that, Microsoft had done very little in the way of financial support for politicians. In 2000, MS suddenly became one of the biggest corporate contributors. They mostly gave to republicans, i
  • by mgkimsal2 (200677) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @10:45AM (#22108382) Homepage
    They mentioned they wanted to keep data secure, but there was no mention from anyone interviewed (anonymously), that MS was demanding a security audit of the companies' systems. That would be an interesting approach to take. You can access our data for $x/user/year, but we'll waive the fee if you submit to an audit to prove that you'll be handling the data in a secure manner. I still wouldn't agree with the practice, but it would have been a more PR-savvy move to take. "We're protecting this customer data, but still allowing the user to take their data with them, etc". During their audit, they might just happen to find that Oracle, DB2, PostgreSQL and MySQL aren't as 'secure' as MSSQL, and 'suggest' that companies use MSSQL in the mix as well for user data, but that's just a conspiracy theorist mindset at that point. :)
    • You can access our data for $x/user/year, but we'll waive the fee if you submit to an audit to prove that you'll be handling the data in a secure manner.

      How is this acceptable? It's like paying an indulgence to the Pope for your sins every year so you can keep committing sins. If I'm entrusting my data to someone else then adequate security should be MANDATORY.

      During their audit, they might just happen to find that Oracle, DB2, PostgreSQL and MySQL aren't as 'secure' as MSSQL, and 'suggest' that companies
  • Uh-huh... (Score:4, Informative)

    by IonOtter (629215) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @11:28AM (#22108702) Homepage
    I used Messenger a few times? Then I found out that my user/pass was the same for my Hotmail account, AND my Passport. I remember I was using my Passport account to purchase something, when I suddenly realized, "Hey...my credit card info is tied to my Hotmail and MSN Messenger password..."

    I promptly deleted the credit card info, changed the user info, scrambled the password by mashing the keyboard with a copy&paste and changed the email to a free Hushmail account that would go away in 30 days.

    They've since changed that practice, but MS hasn't offered me anything worthwhile to bring me back.
  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arcturax (454188) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @11:33AM (#22108738)
    Make Microsoft look like assholes and make sure users know it's MS's fault.

    On your social networking/Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, whatever site allow users to import from AIM, YIM and Google. However for MSN, grey out the option and next to it in red put "Due to legal pressure by Microsoft, if you use MSN, you must manually import your contacts" and give a link to a tedious page that restates this reason and make them upload them one at a time.

    Naturally users are going to be rather upset at MS and wonder if maybe they should switch to AIM instead.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by lukas84 (912874)
      LOL no.

      Do you really believe that?

      While a technical person might react like this, they're not the target group. If a teenager has his clique on MSN, nothing will change that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dotancohen (1015143)
      You mean, to tell users the truth instead of bending over backwards to support MS?
  • Currently my company uses Spark(LGPL), not fancy, but it works http://www.igniterealtime.org/projects/spark/index.jsp [igniterealtime.org]
    last company used MSN(seemed stripped down), didn't do any more than spark
  • Some thoughts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday January 19, 2008 @02:03PM (#22110250)
    I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that any contract terms that offer a discount for 100% of someone's business is restraint of trade and runs afoul of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Volume discounts are OK, based upon some threshold quantities. But 100% is simply a test for the exclusion of other suppliers.


    I'm not an economist, but placing barriers on the export of contact information from Hotmail reduces the value of the Hotmail service. If the cost to move a particular piece of data from within one system to any other is higher than moving it in the other direction, its value inside that high cost system is lower by that amount.

  • by belmolis (702863) <billposer@a l u m . m i t .edu> on Saturday January 19, 2008 @05:26PM (#22112028) Homepage

    For those of us who don't use any of these services, could someone please clarify what is at issue. As I understand it, the problem is that people who have a contact list on a Microsoft service want to be able to use that contact list for some other company's service. Can't they just save their contacts in a file that the other services can import? Surely Microsoft has no claim to the data itself and therefore no way to interfere with importing such a file. It sounds like the other services are trying to connect to the Microsoft service and that that is what gives Microsoft something to say about it. Why do they need to do this?

  • It's amazing to me that we're now beginning to see the practical limits of the Frankenstein monster known as The Web. The Web was supposed to make information flow more freely. Yet due to its poor design, only tech-savvy users are capable of doing things like transfer their contacts from one service to another without there being some kind of automated behind-the-scenes linkage between the services. The fact is that Web clients (mostly browsers) have access to both the ability to pull your contact list data
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``Why is something as notionally simple as contact list transfer so technologically complicated that we actually consider it to be a great service to us when two giants like Microsoft and Facebook bless us with the ability to synchronize our contact information between them?''

      I don't think the problem is that is technologically complicated. I think that it is a matter of mindset. Most people will simply not consider doing something with their computers unless it is advertised to them as a service. If you ha
    • by jc42 (318812)
      The Web was supposed to make information flow more freely. ... Why is something as notionally simple as contact list transfer so technologically complicated that we actually consider it to be a great service to us when two giants like Microsoft and Facebook bless us with the ability to synchronize our contact information between them?

      Well, the Web does make information flow easy - if both parties want the information to flow. I don't think any of us would approve of a Web that makes our information flow o
  • Okay that's fine (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sheph (955019)
    This actually could be turned against them. If I was a start up I'd widely publicise the fact that MS is doing this and pass the cost on to the user. If you want to use MSN with my system then you have to pay the 0.25 fee. No other messaging system is charging, so I would think that over time in the interest of consolidating services, and people generally not wanting to pay for what they can get for free MS would be squeezed out.
  • by hhawk (26580)
    Reading the article, the crux of MS's concern is that some 3rd party (e.g., start-up) will store your username/password and thus weaken security as that is not "a best practice." Not that MS follows many good security practices... assuming the start-ups didn't store the user name and password, and there isn't any real reason to either... all should be good.

    MS also makes the claim that the users data is the users' data and then out of the other side of their mouth make a claim about how it took them 12 years
  • Welcome to what happens when you offload your software into web apps. This is why I use Thunderbird for email, not Hotmail or GMail. Sure, people can get angry if Microsoft holds onto their contact data, but for heaven's sake, what did they expect? If you want control of your contact list, keep your contact list on your own hot little PC.
  • standard practice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @03:19AM (#22115458) Homepage Journal
    Par for the course for MS.

    Serious question: Has anyone ever worked with MS and hasn't been fucked with?
  • The article's comments talk about people freely giving out their MSN account passwords. This practice of giving away your credentials began way back in the 90s when certain webmail websites would offer to "collect" your pop or imap mail and aggregate it into their own mail. We used to lock the accounts of anyone we caught doing this because it violated our AUP about revealing your account credentials to third parties. Eventually we just gave up and simply removed access that that id/password would give

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