AOL blocks messaging rival

Odigo offered interoperabilty with AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ in its Odigo Messenger 2.5 product, which was released on May 31. However, last Saturday, AOL blocked AIM interoperability, said Alex Diamandis, vice president of alliance marketing at Odigo. AOL has previously blocked out messaging products from Microsoft, Tribal Voice, and Yahoo.

"Typically, when they're going to block something, AOL's pretty much on top of this - they can do it within days, if not hours," Diamandis said. "We were kind of surprised that they waited so long."

Diamandis noted that ICQ interoperability is still working despite the AIM blockage, and the company is still trying to directly communicate with AOL about the block.

"We're not looking to start a cat-and-mouse game where we keep providing interoperability and they keep blocking it," he added. "We certainly can get around the blockage ... but ideally we want to work with AOL and talk about some sort of standard platforms for the benefit of users around the world, and the commercial utility of instant messaging to begin with as a key infrastructure to e-commerce and sales promotion, and things of that sort."

Odigo is participating in efforts to create an IM standard and Diamandis said he is still holding out hope that "this topic will be moot in a year or so and everybody will come to some kind of agreement" about a standard. Otherwise, he said that interoperability will likely come down to either government regulation or a decision by "the court of public opinion."

AOL confirmed that Odigo's IM is being blocked "for their unauthorised attempts on our servers which really puts at risk or in jeopardy our members' privacy and security," said an AOL representative.

"[AOL is] completely supportive of industrywide efforts to create an open and interoperable standard for IM," said the representative. "We just believe that there can't just be technical standards. There have to be consumer standards as well that protect users' privacy and security."

According to the representative, AOL is working with the IETF on an interoperability standard and welcomes the idea of an open platform for IM, but wants to make sure that consumer privacy, security, and convenience and ease-of-use issues are preserved.

"There are companies out there that are promoting these sort of quick-fix solutions to this issue that are really not in the best interest of consumers. They set up situations where consumers would be having to maintain multiple IDs on multiple accounts with multiple passwords - it's cumbersome for consumers, but even beyond that, it makes consumers increasingly vulnerable to the types of threats we know exist out there, whether it's hacking or spoofing as another member or even spam," added Primrose.

The blocking of Odigo comes on the heels of a letter sent to the US Federal Communications Commission and US Federal Trade Commission by 43 companies - including Odigo, AltaVista, Microsoft, CMGI Solutions, and Fujitsu - calling for the government to take a hard look at instant messaging in its review of the AOL's planned merger with Time Warner.

"The government should support the principle of open standards and interoperability for instant messaging, as it has for other critical communications functions," the letter states. "But the government should make it clear to the marketplace its expectation that no single provider will be allowed to put a wall around the market, either to keep their customers in or to keep competition and innovations out."

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