Economic sanctions continue to spread into cyberspace as Microsoft announced last Friday that customers in sanctioned countries would receive an error message if they tried to log into their Windows Live Messenger accounts and would no longer be able to use the service.
When you try to sign in to Windows Live Messenger, you receive the following error message:
810003c1: We were unable to sign you in to the .NET Messenger Service.
Microsoft has discontinued providing Instant Messenger services in certain countries subject to United States sanctions. Details of these sanctions are available from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control ["OFAC"].
Why it took Windows so long to get with the program when arch-rival Google had disabled downloads to Sudan and other sanctioned countries ages ago is not clear.
Although the shutoff applies to Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, Sudan seems to have taken it most to heart, judging from this report on the shutoff in the Sudan Tribune, a Paris-based on-line newspaper covering Sudan:
The software, Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger, allows users to chat directly with one another, send photos, play games or send messages to mobile phones. The Messenger is widely used by the Sudanese diaspora to contact their families and until last week had been available for free downloading in the countries targeted by US sanctions.
Of course, Microsoft’s action is incredibly easy for users to circumvent. First, users can log back into their accounts and change their country to a non-sanctioned country. (Oddly, Microsoft’s drop-down list for countries on its Live Messenger sign up page- still includes Sudan — not to mention Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria!) Second, if Microsoft is also using geolocation filters on the IP addresses, the user can always connect through a proxy server located in a non-sanctioned country. Et voilà, the Sudanese (or Syrian, Cuban, Iranian or North Korean) resident can IM to his or her hearts content, Microsoft is in full compliance with the law, and OFAC is none the wiser and can still believe that it has hastened the downfall of these governments by keeping their citizens from communicating with their family and friends.