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[liberationtech] Skype letter strategy

Kate Krauss katie at
Wed Jan 16 23:48:23 PST 2013


My activist group has organized a number of strategic sign-on letters over
the years--and used them successfully to change various policies. Rarely,
however, does such a letter alone do the trick--but it's good as part of a
multi-pronged strategy.

The key question is: What does Microsoft leadership care about? What does
Steve Ballmer care about? Not what he should care about--what does he
actually care about?  The way to find out is to research the top priorities
at Microsoft. Those will be your cards to play. For instance, they might
not care that much about human rights issues but might care a lot about
selling a particular product in China or rolling out Windows 8 in Europe.

You may find that their public image is really important to them--they seem
to be trying to be a little more cool.  Microsoft gets a lot out of Skype's
friendly brand and a lot of human rights credibility through its
association with the Gates Foundation. Perhaps talking about these things
would be useful.

Global health advocates, who are surveilled on their computers using
Microsoft software like Skype, are regularly rounded up and thrown into
prison. This is at cross purposes from the admirable goals of the Gates
Foundation. And Skype's friendly, accessible software can let this happen.

There are a lot of options. You have to research and determine--not
guess--what top people at Microsoft really care about for the company and
use that as a guide. It might be something small but pivotal to Microsoft
that activists can have great influence over (Windows 8 rolling out and
being seen as cool in Europe, to make up an example).

This should also guide how the issue is discussed to the press. If
Microsoft cares about X, try to link the Skype problem to X when you talk
to reporters and lay it at Microsoft's doorstep.

Perhaps a list of prominent human rights groups might be good signers.
Another list could be prominent infosec experts--this list is especially
powerful here. Because if info sec experts say Skype isn't safe--well, it
isn't safe for anybody. Another list could be potential, influential
customers for Windows 8 (or whatever business concern is a top priority for

You can have a separate list of each type of signer, with a heading, at the
bottom of the letter. And then you can also open up the letter to everyone.
Have a labeled section for human rights groups signers, a section for info
sec expert signers (or whichever groups you decide on), and a section for
regular people who don't fall into those categories so that they can show

But you need to find the lever that will move the policy. That is not every

I would also address the letter specifically to Steve Ballmer and cc the
board of directors. This is about power, not whose job Skype specifically
is. Do not diffuse responsibility.  Make this specifically Steve Ballmer's

Big petitions are a bit different from this--they require thousands of
signatures, and can still fail. They are often just a way of building
lists, or syphoning off pressure on a particular issue (as with these White
House petitions, I fear). If they are gigantic and leveraged adeptly, they
can be effective. Some groups,like Avaaz, are really great at getting
results with them and are the experts in using this tactic.

Anyway, great leadership, Nadim!

In solidarity,

Kate Krauss
Executive Director,
AIDS Policy Project
kate at
Twitter: @aidspol

On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM, Nadim Kobeissi <nadim at> wrote:

> Dear Privacy Advocates and Internet Freedom Activists,
> I call on you to review the following draft for our Open Letter to Skype
> and present your name or the name of your organization as signatories:
> The letter will be released soon. Feedback is also welcome.
> Thank you,
> NK
> --
> Unsubscribe, change to digest, or change password at:
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