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Microsoft Blocks Messenger In Five Embargoed Countries 194

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-can-they-still-tweet dept.
Spooky McSpookster writes "Microsoft has turned off its Windows Live Messenger service for five countries: Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea. Users in these countries trying to log in get the following error: '810003c1: We were unable to sign you in to the .NET Messenger Service.' Why now, since this flies in the face of the Obama administration's softening stance on Cuba? This isn't the first time the US trade embargo has had questionable outcomes. US-based Syrian political activist George Ajjan created a web site promoting democracy in Syria, only to find GoDaddy blocked anyone inside Syria from seeing it. The article argues, 'Messenger is a medium for communication, and the citizens of these countries should not be punished from such a basic tool because the US has problems with their governments' policies.' What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication?"
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Microsoft Blocks Messenger In Five Embargoed Countries

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  • First post!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by moj0e (812361)
    Without reading the article, I would assume that M$ makes advertising money with its IM. Because of that, it might be construed that it is doing business with countries that it has no business doing business. (that was really an excuse for first post...)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Divebus (860563)

      With the press talking about people who want to harm the U.S. using Facebook, Twitter, various IM systems etc, it almost makes sense to turn off one such avenue of abuse. It may be a "lead by example" thing... or a software bug.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cbiltcliffe (186293)

        Until somebody figures out that, by using Tor, you can connect to MSN from anywhere in the world, bypassing all such restrictions.....

        • by WoLpH (699064)

          Great idea but it won't work ;)

          They only block people that filled in those countries, if you tell msn you live in some other country it will simply work.

        • by dimeglio (456244)

          ...or a simple proxy

    • by bcmm (768152)
      Was that an attempt at a +5 Troll?
  • About the same (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:31PM (#28067465) Journal

    What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication?

    About the same as the wisdom of US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication. The ones are about as likely as the others, to end up with a strange feeling on their backsides.

    • Re:About the same (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bearhouse (1034238) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:02PM (#28067741)

      Damn - just used my points in another thread. Exactly what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, people in these countries are unlikely to have a choice...I remember handing out copies of my Skype backup install in the UAE, since downloading it was blocked there...

      • Uuum... Yes, UAE got a "great firewall", but everybody knows proxies to get around it. Only one rich guy there needs to get a server outside the UAE, and make it a proxy. If they block it, just change the IP.

  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:32PM (#28067473) Homepage Journal

    They don't do what is good for "people" in general and they don't claim to do so.

    This is true of every big corporation. It's probably true of any group where liability for actions are taken away.

  • by Keruo (771880) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:33PM (#28067483)

    Simple. They were using the "block country" wizard 4 years ago to do this change, but whomever was doing the blocking, accidentally pressed cancel on the last sheet. Until now, no-one noticed that those countries weren't blocked.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:33PM (#28067493)

    The slashdot article writes: "What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication?"

    It's not so much that it's a US company, but closed source product.

    Microsoft activation has disabled plenty of US citizens who upgraded some components of their hardware that WGA didn't like.

    And even if you buy from other companies you're not safe from US sabotage in closed source software. Remember the Soviet Oil Pipeline software bought from a Canadian firm - which had CIA-placed trojans in it:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberian_pipeline_sabotage

    If you care about your software infrastructure - make sure you have the ability to fix (or hire independent consultants to fix) your software no matter what your vendor does - whether it's something innocent like going bankrupt, or deliberately breaking your infrastructure.

    • The slashdot article writes: "What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication?"

      It's not so much that it's a US company, but closed source product.

      Um, WTF?

      This is about using a service provided by a US-based company, and the idea that that company might suddenly stop providing that service to you because the government said something stupid.

      If you care about your software infrastructure - make sure you have the ability to fix (or hire independent consultants to fix) your software no matter what your vendor does - whether it's something innocent like going bankrupt, or deliberately breaking your infrastructure.

      No, you actually don't want to do that. You want to make sure you can always get at your data, so you can migrate it to whatever new system you like. The reason you don't want to fix it yourself (including hiring someone), is that this will almost certainly be far more expensive because you pay for everything yours

  • by deft (253558) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:33PM (#28067495) Homepage

    I'm not a lover or hater of MS, but I know when a article is biased.

    Right after the writer says "it's not clear that Microsoft was ordered to make this change, so what made the company decide that US-embargoed countries aren't worthy of Messenger? Why now?".

    If it's not clear, why assume they chose? Why say they aren't worthy... clearly MS thought they were for some time. MS gets no good from blocking it, they just want users. Maybe their lawyers had been arguing with the government and finally there was a decision.

    Noone knows... which means don't conclude anything. More info needed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cesc (121088)

      I'm not a lover or hater of MS, but I know when a article is biased.

      Are you new here? Either you are with us or against us when it comes to MS terrorist business.

      Please make up your mind quickly or we will preemptively send you to Gitmo.

      • Are you new here? Either you are with us or against us when it comes to MS terrorist business.

        Who is this Microsoft you speak of?

    • Don't bet on it. All a government has to do is threaten to stop buying M$ and M$'ll make all sorts of concessions on things other than price and licensing terms. The choice M$ may have had was between pulling the MSN plug or having NO government users in the affected countries. When making a choice between enabling freedom of speech and making a few bucks, why should suggesting that M$ is no different from Google on this issue be considered evidence of "bias"?
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:33PM (#28067497) Journal

    What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication?

    What does this say about the wisdom of anyone relying on a single provider for their business or communication? The idea of a second source isn't exactly new. If you adopt a technology from a single provider, with no interoperability, then don't be surprised when you realise that their interests are not the same as yours. If you use MSN Messenger and Facebook instead of XMPP and email then you are subject to the whims of these two companies and their legal obligations.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by pisco_sour (722645)

      The reason many people (myself included at some point) decide to use US-based services for different purposes is, in my view, quite reasonable. First of all, there's a matter of access: I can have access to much cheaper and better services via the web (i.e. web hosting) by choosing a foreign provider than a domestic one. Similarly for domain names - a generic .com domain hosted abroad costs about a tenth of what a similar domain would on my country's TLD.

      The second possibility I see is more legally/politica

      • by hjf (703092) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @02:58PM (#28068685) Homepage

        agreed. I'm from Argentina and I know first hand what you're talking about. the state of communications here is a mess:

        Fibertel (the 2nd-largest ISP) proxies their users, DNS-redirects them to local servers (using another DNS server doesn't work, you get a blank page).

        The largest one, Telecom has a more decent network but still vulnerable to fiber cuts (there's a fiber ring, not a mesh. a few weeks ago we had a fiber outage and nothing, including cell phones, long distance or internet worked). Also last-mile is completely destroyed (it was replaced completely in the early 90s and it was pretty good until the last 5 years when they didn't fix it anymore)

        There's nastier stuff: no local peering. G4 (Telecom, Telefonica, Fibertel and Impsat) don't peer with "independent" ISPs (Gigared, Telecentro...).

        PRIMA wasn't visible from Chile because there's no peering between PRIMA and some Chilean ISPs, and Telecom (or any other G4) refuses to transit, it has to get routed through US and there are no transit agreements.

        PRIMA is now part of Fibertel, formerly a competition with Flash, both companies are part of CableVision and Multicanal respectively, government let Cablevision buy Multicanal, allowing them to monopolize cable TV in most areas (large urban areas sometimes have alternatives, and there's always DirecTV, but still).

        And the worst part is the "CORPORATE BUSINESS" model. Anything that's not for home users, is called CORPORATE BUSINESS (with big capital letters). It's always the same service as Residential, only more expensive, 50% to 100% more. They don't offer quicker support or anything. Telecom's mail servers are in almost every spam blacklist, and they're unavailable (you can't retrieve your mail) 9 out of 10 times in peak hours. Every day.

        In rural areas where Mom and Pop Wireless ISPs grow at an amazing rate, Telecom sells 1Mbps for about USD 1500. That's right, a whopping megabit per second for 1.5k. In urban areas that price quickly drops to about USD 200, and residential connections are 3Mbps for less than USD 20. Fastest connection is 5mbps/256k for DSL and in some ares, 20m/256k (yes 256k up for 20 megabits).

        Hosting/Housing have the same problem, only huge sites are located in here (like news sites, which are often part of a multimedia group like Clarin, which also owns an ISP), the rest is US-based because it costs 1/10 to 1/100 of what you get here. And usually, if you do rent a server, it really can't handle high traffic. There are very very few game servers here, but hundreds in the US. Dallas is one of the favorite locations for colo/housing for Latin America.

        So why do some countries use US-based services? For reasons like those.

  • Thanks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:33PM (#28067503) Homepage Journal
    Is not like they will avoid them to access the service, or at least a big part of it. There are plenty of places that gives a messenger web gateway.

    But closing it is a good first step. It those countries people used to have something in desktop will have to install other alternatives, maybe going out from the messenger, hotmail or even windows in big numbers, going to alternatives (i.e. google talk, and probably gmail by association).
    • by hjf (703092)

      and when google (another US-based company) starts blocking them, what?

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        You can use non US based free webmail, such as mail.ru or mbox.bol.bg...
        There are tons of jabber servers located outside of the US which allow free accounts and will interoperate with google perfectly well.

      • Google uses XMPP, which is an open standard. If someone runs an XMPP server in a country with no embargo on Iran (and a great many people do), then people from Iran can connect to it, and it can communicate with every GTalk user.

        The lesson from this is not to rely on anything for communication that is not an open standard with multiple, interoperating, providers.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft is a corporation, not some grand giving entity with the mission to help humanity. If they saw it more in their interests to turn this off then deal with the consequences of leaving access open, who cares. It is not MS's charter to provided uncompromising and unending access for communication to all the poor oppressed peoples in the world. Their charter is to generate profit for its owners and share holders.

    Cheers.

    • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:39PM (#28067553) Homepage Journal

      Corporations doing what is best for their owners and share holders is a MYTH. This is one of the biggest myths of the corporate era of history.

      Corporations move first to promote the interests of the *corporation* itself. The interests of shareholders is a very. very distant second.

      If the shareholders where higher on the ladder you wouldn't see the rush to declare bankruptcy where the common shareholder gets nothing out of the deal.

      • by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:12PM (#28067795)
        Corporations move first to promote the interests of the *corporation* itself.

        On which planet? Here on planet Earth, corporations act in the best interest of one or two board members on a good day, and on the supposed, but completely erroneously assessed, best interest of same board members the rest of the year. The shareholders and employees get shafted regularly. The American and British motor industries appear to act consistently against their own best interests.

        Mergers are almost always to the benefit of a few board members, and to the complete detriment of the corporation and its shareholders.

      • by afabbro (33948)

        Corporations doing what is best for their owners and share holders is a MYTH. This is one of the biggest myths of the corporate era of history.

        Corporations move first to promote the interests of the *corporation* itself. The interests of shareholders is a very. very distant second.

        I think I know what you're getting at, but could you please repost it, only with your generalizations set a bit more sweeping?

  • by vivaelamor (1418031) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:35PM (#28067529)
    How pointless, hopefully everyone will switch to something non commercial like Jabber and the only ones to suffer will be Microsoft.
  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:35PM (#28067531) Homepage
    More power to decentralised protocols like XMPP where anyone can run a server, even if all internet access is cut off to that particular country
  • by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:36PM (#28067535)

    I believe these countries have gurus who can grab open source software and end up build a versatile system. Who the hell needs Microsoft?

    It could be Jabber all the way.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Jihabber

  • What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their business or communication?

    The same thing it says for US citizens relying on non-US companies for their business or communication. There will be times when the company you are relying on makes decisions detrimental to your interests based on said company's understanding of the laws in their country.
    Or even the same thing as people relying on others in the same country for business or communication, sometimes they will act in ways that are detrimental to your interests based on what they perceive to be in their best interest.

  • by reporter (666905) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:43PM (#28067579) Homepage
    Tyrannical regimes operate best by minimizing the exchange of information or reducing its accuracy. For example, Beijing often covers up both disasters like sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and brutality like torturing Tibetan monks. Chinese citizens who live in an area affected by SARS or witnessed the torture of Tibetans but who have access to non-Beijing-controlled communication systems can then use such systems to spread the truth to other citizens. An example of a communication system is Windows Live Messenger (WLM).

    Also communication systems like WLM enable folks trapped in tyrannical regimes to communicate with the outside world. The ability to communicate with Europeans is an important mechanism for spreading Western values -- human rights, democracies, and simple compassion -- into brutal societies.

    • ... and trade (Score:3, Insightful)

      by reporter (666905)
      I forgot to add that trade -- i. e., economic trade -- is important for spreading those Western values. Trade facilitates the transfer of information from the West to brutal regimes and maximizes exposure of their citizens to Western ideas.

      Compare China today to China before 1980. The difference is night and day. China is freer today because trade injected numerous Western ideas into the country.

      For that same reason, the economic sanctions against Burma starve its people of Western ideas.

      Trade and

    • by jonfr (888673)

      On that note, it is worth pointing out that North-Korea doesn't have internet (the public at large). They do however have one big LAN, but that is even censored.

  • I read several people talking about the alternatives to Live Messenger but what are they? I'm sure every open source alternative supports emotes and simple text formatting but what about Video Chat?

    Currently I only know of four IM applications that support video:
    - Live Messenger
    - Skype (Horrible quality)
    - Yahoo!
    - Apple iChat (Mac Only)

    The year is 2009 and we have fat pipes, so you have little excuse for sticking to 1980s style text conversations.

    • GChat belongs on that list, too. I haven't tried it myself, and I can't tell if it's only supported in GMail.

    • The year is 2009 and we have fat pipes, so you have little excuse for sticking to 1980s style text conversations.

      You're suggesting, perhaps, that Slashdot offer the following options:

      Plain Old Text
      HTML Formatted
      Extrans (html tags to text)
      Code
      Webcam

      I'd think that would be impractical for a numer of reasons, not the least of which is that the moderation system would have to be changed to account for things like no underwear and manboob

      • no underwear and manboobs.

        I suspect the "no underwear" modifier will depend on the sex of the person not wearing the underwear.

    • The year is 2009 and we have fat pipes, so you have little excuse for sticking to 1980s style text conversations.

      Firstly, "we" may, but what about the countries mentioned in the summary under this embargo restriction?

      Secondly, it's not a linear progression of technology, where more bandwidth corresponds with a better method of communication. Voice, video, and text (and even then, IM vs. SMS vs. e-mail and so on) each have their own benefits and downfalls.

      One easy example is that for a webcam chat, you can more easily make sense of the person's tone and attitude, but with text you can read what the person said at your

  • > What does this say for the wisdom of non-US citizens relying on US companies for their
    > business or communication?

    What does this say for the wisdom of relying on a free service provided by any company for their business or communication?

    BTW it may shock you to learn that the US is not the only country with asinine regulations.

  • ...power to control..

    For the people, some 6 billion plus to communicate openly they will find they are no different in their daily living and can become friends.

    But for those in positions of power and control, they would not want this to happen as it takes control and power away from them and even exposes them as the perpetrator of all the bad shit they put on the rest of us.

    Here is an example of what better can be done and raises the question of why is it not being done [unesco.org] Want to beat terrorism, then remove

  • by glwtta (532858) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:04PM (#28067753) Homepage
    So the only way to prevent that damn thing from starting every time you even look at any MS app is to be designated part of the "Axis of Evil"? Seems worth it.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:15PM (#28067821)

    Why do Cuba, North Korea and all get better security due to a lack of access to one of the biggest malware outlets on the planet and we don't?

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:17PM (#28067845)

    I don't understand either the reasoning here, or why they feel that blocking web service is either desirable or required under US law. (Obviously, it's different if you want to sell something there.)

    We do Internet broadcasting (in English) and have a steady audience in Iran, Syria and Sudan (the largest of these being in Iran). It's early evening right now in all three places, and people there are watching TV from the US. Seems to me that that is a good thing.

  • by cesc (121088) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:41PM (#28068001) Homepage

    I don't know about the other four countries but last summer I was in Iran and USA brands were ubiquitous. For example all the restaurants had either Coca Cola or Pepsi which seem to be the locals' favorite drink. "Bottled in Iran with license from Coca Cola" read the cans, in plain English. And they were less than 50c!

    I was clearly on the minority when drinking the local traditional soda, dugh, made with yogurt and mint.

    Some locals take offense if asked about the embargo. It hurts their national feelings. "we've been under embargo for generations and we know how to get around it".

    Friends who hadn't been to Iran for several years missed the old traditional Persian cola brands. Apparently Persicola and Zam Zam tasted much better than the USA brands. But locals didn't remember when the change had happened.

    Similarly local olive and olive oil brands had been replaced with European counterparts. Last news I hear from Iran is that some clerics are getting around the import tariffs and illegally importing cheap Malaysian fruits which are driving local farmers to bankruptcy.

    A few years ago the supreme leader abolished an article in the constitution which prevented the government from privatizing core state services. Now Ahmadinejad is eliminating the subsidies for bread, electricity, and gas.

    Recently the Iranian government sounds more like the Bush neocon administration than a revolutionary socialist one.

    I know that the embargo of Internet services are different to get around from the embargo of physical goods, but many people in Iran already use a VPN and browse with a foreign IP, to get pass the Iranian censorship.

  • Revenue Rules (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nx6310 (1150553) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @01:44PM (#28068019)

    As an individual who currently resides in Syria, I find this simply absurd, but the reason isn't simply Embargoes, it happens to be most embargoed countries do not implement copyright laws pertaining to US (and most non-US) company products. Some might have the spiteful reaction, 'well then they shouldn't be provided any services', while the reason for these companies not getting any copyright rights, is the fact they don't have official representation in these countries for the same reason the embargoes exist, politics.

    This brings us to the main reason some services have been denied to the aforementioned countries, Revenue, now because nationals (and residents) of these countries do not abide by global copyright laws, almost all services provided to these countries are either the free in nature, or in the case of non-online products (e.g Windows XP) piracy is the norm.

    So as some of you mentioned, its all about politics, what we here see, is a sign that the political status of these countries as embargoed countries, won't be changing any time soon. And the reason is simply, Revenue.

  • This isn't the first time the US Trade Embargo has had questionable outcomes.

    Am I the only one who expected a flashback to one of Peter Griffin's past foibles?

  • Idiots (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @02:18PM (#28068291)

    The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing in our government.

    Letting these countries use IM would seem to be an excellent way for our intelligence services to keep tabs on their communications (assuming they're stupid enough to use a system based in the USA).

    • More specifically, using centralised IM, with the servers located in the USA, means that chats between two Iranians can be intercepted by the NSA with no legal or technical problems.
  • >> US-based Syrian political activist George Ajjan created
    >> a web site promoting democracy in Syria, only to find
    >> GoDaddy blocked anyone inside Syria from seeing it

    Give me a single example when a country became democratic (long term) due to the US "promoting" democracy there. You can't do it. Democracy by definition has to come from the "demos" - the people. For it to stick, democracy has to be the point where society achieves its lowest potential energy state, so to speak.

    • Japan, West Germany.

      I'm mentioning that so as to point out that the situation in both of those countries was radically different from what we're looking at now.

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Germany was already a democracy... Adolf Hitler was democratically elected, and him being removed from power had a lot more to do with the USSR and the UK than it did the US.

      • by melted (227442)

        In Germany democracy emerged in spite, not thanks to, American occupation. You should read up on it, it's fascinating. It's as if the US did everything in its power for democracy NOT to see any uptake.

        And surely you don't want to use the methods used in Japan to instill democracy in other countries. And besides, how is it a democracy if there's only one party? :-) That's the kind of democracy they have over in Russia. Sure, on paper it's democracy. They hold elections, have parliament, etc. But there's a gi

  • Don't think so (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lawand (1345185) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @02:32PM (#28068415) Homepage
    I don't think that MS really wants to lose tons of users, because I am from Syria and switching the country in my profile re-granted my access to the Messenger service.
  • It seems to me that allowing a combination of big business and government to develop and implement foreign policy is about as sane and responsible as letting a convicted pedophile babysit your kids.

  • ...so people would stop to force me to use that crappy thing to communicate with them. (Other than the phone, going over, writing a letter, drawing a giant cloud-message in the sky, or hiding a secret message in a 2000 year old book.)

  • The US military recent made Windows purchases. In other words, they gave away money in the form of purchasing toxic assets. Now we know what they got in return.

  • by bgeer (543504) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @03:40PM (#28069011)
    The Export Administration Act (EAA) prohibits export of crypto to (dun dun dunnnn) Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Presumably windows messenger has some kind of crypto in it so Microsoft is blocking them to somehow cover their asses legally.
  • It just goes to show the danger of using proprietary closed network services... This now means that anyone in these countries is unable to communicate with people using MSN anywhere else in the world...

    On the other hand, with a freely federated service like email or jabber/xmpp the individual provider doesn't matter.

  • by ozbird (127571) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @05:32PM (#28069785)
    Why stop there? I'd love Microsoft to block Messenger in Australia, too.
  • Dear Sir/Madame

    My government recognizes that your government is a repressive regime, straight out of the worst pages of history. We further recognize that you are trapped somewhere between the bronze and the iron ages. Because of this, we feel it necessary to restrict your freedom of expression, along with your freedom to find and use information that might help you to overthrow your repressive regime. For this purpose, we are denying your ability to communicate with family and freinds outside of your re

  • This is excellent news.

    I applaud all efforts to migrate people away from using Microsoft software or services. There are, after all, many better bits of software freely available without paying money to Microsoft.

    I even more applaud Microsoft's efforts to achieve this same result. :o)

  • Pretty much every US based company have to follow the embargoes, and this means that their subsidiaries in other countries usually follow those lists.

    I ended up causing quite a ruccus when I received a tech support call from the Iraqi embassy in Denmark. That's Iraqi territory and the embargo list I had included Iraq. Just logged the issue and contact info and told the guy that I'd call him back, hung up and checked with my manager.

    Ended up getting the embargo list updated from our US overlords, as Iraq had

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