Last week we told you about Microsoft Shutting Off Windows Live Messenger IM For Users In Countries Embargoed By The US (Error 810003c1). We can tell you a little bit more about the “why” today.
Let’s take a look at what can, and can’t, be banned by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the Department of the Treasury. According to a lawyer who advises companies on OFAC compliance, offering communications services such as IM to sanctioned countries such as Iran or Cuba is not restricted by OFAC. Offering software however is. That’s because software, even free apps downloadable from the Internet, are considered exportable goods, and thus can be banned by OFAC. The rules are fairly strict. "You can’t even send a pen or pencil to people in those countries," he said.
So web-based services, like Windows Live Hotmail, or cloud-based services are fine, as long as they do not depend on a user download! Messenger requires a user download so yea, for that reason it’s not allowed. Not only does it rule out Windows Live Messenger, it rules out the entire Windows Live Essentials as well as other Microsoft offerings. We did not read anything about other services besides Windows Live Messenger being shut off though. By the way, Microsoft is not the only one banning IM access to U.S. enemy nations. Google Inc. and possibly AOL LLC have also cut access to their instant messaging services to citizens of countries deemed hostile to the United States. Whether Microsoft had been contacted by OFAC or voluntarily implemented the ban remains unknown.
The moves likely hurt not only local residents of those countries, but also overseas friends and relatives who rely on the IM and video chat provided by these services to stay in touch. How effective these measurements will be at preventing access remains to be seen too, as there are several workarounds available. But, as any company, Microsoft has to obey the law.