America Online (AOL), under fire for its instant messaging protectionism, has submitted a proposal to an industry body as a first step to creating an open standard.
The move is the latest in a year-long battle by AOL to protect its network from instant messages sent by its competitors' customers. Rivals including Microsoft, Tribal Voice and Odigo have in the past complained to US authorities about the service provider's attempts to block such messages from reaching AOL's millions of customers.
Instant messaging systems enables users to exchange emails in real-time by alerting customers when their friends are online.
AOL claims its move to block messages protect its networks but it has also inflamed the situation by suggesting attempts to communicate with its members as tantamount to hacking.
It initially blocked messages from users of Microsoft's MSN Messaging Service in July 1999 and did the same to messages from AT&T's I M Here facility last December . Microsoft later abandoned the struggle and is instead putting its energy into developing a standard for instant messaging with the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF), the same organisation that received AOL's proposals on Thursday.
The proposal calls for a "server-to-server approach to interoperability". Traditional instant messaging is computer to computer while email is server to server. "We believe that this [server to server] approach protects the user's privacy, security and ease-of-use, as well as promoting continued long-term competition and innovation in the industry and providing the greatest degree of scalability," according to AOL.
To address security concerns, AOL said its architecture calls requires users to register with only one instant messaging system to avoid sharing confidential information with anyone outside their chosen network. The architecture also calls for firewalls, end-to-end encryption and other security requirements.
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