AOL Gets the Probe

The FCC is busy conducting some last minute due diligence over America
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

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 [email protected].

News Around the Web