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[liberationtech] Skype letter strategy

Nadim Kobeissi nadim at
Thu Jan 17 08:01:58 PST 2013

On Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 2:48 AM, Kate Krauss <katie at> wrote:

> Hi,
> 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.

They care about bad media coverage regarding Skype's human rights record,
I'd hope...

> 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
> Microsoft).
> 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 solidarity.
> But you need to find the lever that will move the policy. That is not
> every lever.
> 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
> headache.

Hmm. What does the rest of libtech think about addressing the letter to
Ballmer? I'm not sure how to think about this quite frankly.

> 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.

I think we can achieve a similar effort by getting signatures from
laudable/influential/awesome organizations/individuals en-masse and
appealing to the press.

> Anyway, great leadership, Nadim!

Thank you! Glad I seem to be doing something useful.

> 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
>> --
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