Microsoft is being called on to block users of Tutanota’s end-to-end encrypted email service, Tutanota’s cloud-based collaboration platform, from registering an account with Teams, if they try to do so using a Tutanota email address.
The problem, which hasn’t been fixed for some time — an initial complaint was raised with Microsoft support in January 2021 — appears to arise because it treats Tutanota as a corporate email, rather than what it actually is (and always has been), a Email service.
This misclassification means that when a Tutanota email user tries to use this email address to register an account with Teams they get a classic ‘computer says no’ response — the interface blocks the registration and advises the person to “contact your administrator”. or try another.Email”.
“When the first Tutanota user registers a team account, they are assigned a domain. This is why people who log in with a Tutanota address should now be reported to ‘administrators’ (see screenshot),” a Tutanota spokesperson explained when explaining why they think this is happening.
To overcome this denial — and register a team account — the Tutanota user must enter a non-Tutanota email. (Like, for example, a Microsoft email address.)
Unsurprisingly, Tutanota is lamenting Microsoft’s failure to fix an obvious SNAFU — and calling for action from antitrust authorities to ensure competition, and privacy-supporting business models like his own, fail to deliver to overpowered, gatekeeping tech giants. A level playing field.
In a blog post detailing the story, Tutanota’s co-founder, Matthias Fau, called Microsoft’s behavior a “severely anti-competitive practice.”
“Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are debating stronger antitrust laws to rein in Big Tech. These laws are badly needed as examples of Microsoft block Tutanota users from registering a Team account,” he wrote. “The problem: Big tech companies have the market power to harm smaller competitors through some very simple actions, such as denying customers of smaller companies from using their own services.”
“This is just one example of how Microsoft can abuse and misuse its dominant market position to harm competitors, thereby harming customers,” he added.
The German company behind TutatNota, founded in 2011, is set to launch its encrypted email client in 2014 — so Microsoft can’t exactly be accused of having its finger on the pulse here.
But Tutanota said that when it asked its company’s support staff to fix the problem they had created, they were told it was “not possible”.
“We have reviewed this internally and as of now, it is not currently possible for the domain to become a public domain and this is because the domain used Microsoft Teams Services,” wrote Microsoft support staff Tutanota in an unhelpful email response that TechCrunch reviewed.
“As previously discussed, we are unable to make your domain a public domain. The domain is already used for Microsoft Teams. If teams are used with a specific domain, it can’t work as a vanity/public domain,” ran another shake-off response from Microsoft’s support.
Tutanota continued to push for weeks why Microsoft couldn’t reclassify the domain — but was met with the same brick wall of denial. So it is now going public with its complaint.
“The conversation went on for at least six weeks until we finally gave up – because of repeated feedback that they wouldn’t change it,” the spokesperson added.
In the blog post, Pfau argued that “competing with Microsoft is nearly impossible due to their absolute market power”, and urged the authorities to “break the market power of big tech” – highlighting the contrast between a pro-privacy end- to end-to-end encryption. Email services, such as Tutanota, and a tech giant like Microsoft, which has a large adtech business that tracks web users, stripping them of their privacy to monetize targeted advertising.
“We need to break the market power of Big Tech like in the 90s. This will lead to a new evolution in today’s online world. One where products thrive that focus on benefiting consumers — not maximizing ad revenue,” he wrote, adding: “To free themselves from being tracked online, people need privacy-respecting options.”
Microsoft was contacted about Tutanota’s complaint but the tech giant had not responded at the time of writing.
This is not the first time that Tutanota has had its users’ access blocked by larger platforms, having previously faced problems with AT&T and Comcast in the US.
Since then, the European Union has passed sweeping new antitrust legislation that will come into force early next year – aka the Digital Markets Act (DMA) – which will set the rules up front for the most powerful platforms (so-called “gatekeepers”) with big penalties for violations. Supported by other businesses actively pushing them to play fair.
Cloud services are within the scope of the DMA — and the regulation also includes a requirement that in-scope core platform services must apply fair and non-discriminatory general access terms (aka FRAND terms), a long list of other operational ‘dos and In the list of don’ts’ — so Microsoft’s Team Platform could, potentially, apply it in the future in the frame of the EU’s upcoming special abuse regime.
That said, EU lawmakers previously suggested Microsoft was unlikely to be the first GAFAM giant to qualify for the shiny new block. previous Oversight rules when broad competition is a concern across the full spectrum of Big Tech (eg Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, etc.). But Block’s direction of travel is now firmly on increased scrutiny of the platform’s power and justification of its implications, so Microsoft’s dismissive attitude toward Tutanota’s allegations looks bad, to say the least.