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RealTime IT News

AOL Gets the Probe

The FCC is busy conducting some last minute due diligence over America Online's shady instant messaging (IM) policies. Unfortunately, it's little more than feel-good window dressing. While most investors have long since put the AOL/Time Warner merger to bed, instant messaging is one of those crucial points that demands a triple shot of scrutiny.

As near as I can tell, America Online is acting the fool with its strong-arm tactics over IM. Last summer, the ISP giant scrambled to block its users from receiving instant messages from rival IM services. Namely Microsoft's . Back then nobody gave a rat's behind because Softie was the town bully, and the nascent technology was simply a passing gadget with a few million fans.

That was then. This is now. Today, instant messaging is big bananas, and there are more rival services out there than you can shake a stick at. Sounds peachy for consumers, except for the fact that AOL is still blocking rival IM services, desperate to keep a stranglehold on its more than 150 million users. That goes counter to everything the Internet stands for and should raise more than a few eyebrows with the FCC.

The competition has been stamping their collective feet trying to pressure AOL to adopt an open standard so all Web surfers can communicate freely with one another using competing instant messaging services. But AOL has surreptitiously dragged its feet worse than a Baatan Death March and subsequently gotten away with a whammy.

AOL has made excuses for its noncompliance that range from odd to obscene. At last glance, the company claimed that opening up its instant messaging to rivals would prove a privacy hazard to its users, susceptible to mysterious hacker bogeymen and cutthroat spammers. If that were the only sticking point, AOL could easily assemble a room full of IT wizards to pull an all-nighter and hammer out a solution. But then that wouldn't be in AOL's best interest, now would it?

Consider a couple of real world examples that should shed some light on the subject. What if customers of competing long distance telephone services couldn't communicate with one another? How about if rival e-mail clients blocked correspondence from one another?

It may sound silly, but what America Online is doing is no laughing matter. The company has a greater IM market share than even Palm or Netscape had in their respective industries during the best of times. If AOL can't get its act together posthaste, then someone needs to do it for them.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.



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