Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Google starts to block instant messaging invites

Late last week, it was reported by the Free Software Foundation that Google had began filtering out instant messaging invites to its Google Talk service from non-Google services.  Google Talk uses an open protocol called XMPP for its messaging platform which, in theory, means that users of one XMPP service can chat with users on any other XMPP service by simply adding them as a buddy.

But on February 13th, Google's Per Gustafsson sent a post down the Jabber [Operators] mailing list complaining that Google was seeing an inordinate amout of 'spammy' invites and wondering if Jabber could 'do something about it' or else Google might be forced to tighten the amount of invites from non-Google XMPP services that would be passed to users per day.

It seems like Google made good on that threat as users are widely reporting that invites from outside of Google's domains are often mysteriously dissappearing and never reaching their intended recipient.

As the Free Software Foundation article pointed out, what Google is doing is akin to allowing only other Gmail users to email each other and blocking all emails from outside domains. It's forcing users who want to chat with their friends who use Google Talk to either convince their friends to move to another service or to give in and use the Google Talk service themselves.

One of the strong points of XMPP has always been its federation. Having the ability to add friends from Google Talk, Facebook, and other XMPP services is one of the reasons people are drawn to XMPP over more proprietary protocols. Google's move to restrict communication in this way is making sure the web is a more walled off, Google-centric, place for those who use the companies services.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it at the moment but I encourage everyone to email Per and let him know you are unhappy with Google closing their users off from the rest of the Internet in this way.

This wreaks of control and centralization. Do you really want Google to decide who you can be friends with?

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