Microsoft bans Slack for its employees
Priya Wadhwa
10X Technology

Microsoft bans Slack for its employees

Anti-trust vs. business strategy?

Slack is becoming an increasingly popular platform for employees to communicate and keep track of conversations and projects.

As goes in the tech world, it's not the only platform that helps employees do this. There are many others built by start-ups, as well as big tech firms such as Microsoft.

Naturally, Microsoft would not want its employees to use Slack, but it has taken a step further and reportedly banned the latter's use citing security risks; while encouraging them to use their own Microsoft Teams.

Why should this matter? Because Microsoft Teams and Slack are each other's core competition.

Slack named Microsoft as its primary competitor in a regulatory filing sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission in April, and Microsoft listed Slack among its competitors in its most recent annual report.
Business Insider

According to GeekWire, Microsoft gives the following explanation for the internal Slack ban:

Slack Free, Slack Standard and Slack Plus versions do not provide required controls to properly protect Microsoft Intellectual Property (IP). Existing users of these solutions should migrate chat history and files related to Microsoft business to Microsoft Teams, which offers the same features and integrated Office 365 apps, calling and meeting functionality. Learn more about the additional features that Teams can provide your workgroup. Slack Enterprise Grid version complies with Microsoft security requirements; however, we encourage use of Microsoft Teams rather than a competitive software.

Mark the last sentence we have highlighted above. This is the only version that Microsoft will not put implement in its offices for obvious reasons. However, the ban does not only affect the offices of Microsoft, but may be pushed for implementation in third-party or vendor offices. This is where the lines become blurred into an antitrust issue; and Microsoft can legally protect itself by not making the strongest statement against complete ban of Slack.

This ban has come into debate majorly because the possible reasons behind it have moved past pure security issues, to arguably antitrust ones. Let us illustrate with two major examples:

1. When Microsoft wanted to compete with Apple in the smartphone and hardware sphere, it frowned upon its employees using Apple products. But because it was the employees' personal decision, they could never officially ban it.

2. Facebook banned the advertisement of blockchain and cryptocurrency projects two years ago citing safety concerns of misleading and fraudulent ads. This was a completely understandable reason. But we have now learnt that it was secretly working on its own cryptocurrency project, the recently announced Libra; which would arguably question the ban as a move to stifle competition.

Slack is not the only app Microsoft has banned.

Microsoft also prohibits employees from using the grammar-checking app Grammarly and the Kaspersky security software. It discourages employees from using Amazon Web Services, Google Docs, PagerDuty, and the cloud version of GitHub.

Microsoft has two major lists for apps and software that it does not want its employees to use: prohibited and discouraged. We do not know the reason behind why these particular applications come under them, but clearly, Microsoft does not want its employees to use products and services from competitors.

The internal Slack ban falls on the grey line between antitrust issues and understandable internal business strategy. No company would want its employees to give business to rivals. However, banning the software does not set ideal precedence. And this move can be seen as stifling competition given the other apps and software it bans.

We believe fair play does not result in usage ban. Microsoft has a lot more financial strength and ability to build Microsoft Teams to be better than Slack, which could entice people migrate to it.

Having said that, there is another big hurdle for Microsoft when it comes to getting people on board with its services: mistrust over data privacy concerns.

Between Facebook’s much-publicised debacle with Cambridge Analytica, Google’s various data breaches and Amazon undercutting third-party sellers on its platform, people around the world are feeling uncomfortable with using big tech services. And the issues keep arising. Today, Facebook again came under fire for the possible Russian interference in Brexit vote.

Even if Microsoft makes its app better, due to the growing data privacy trust issue that people hold against big tech, it will still struggle to entice people to migrate to its platform.

On the flip side, there are others who believe Slack’s platform is not as secure as they need it to be. Recently Ernst & Young, the management consultancy, partnered with Wire, the competitors of Slack, to build a unique and secure platform for its internal use.

While this does say something about Slack’s platform not being very secure (one point for Microsoft), it also speaks volumes about growing distrust from corporates as well when it comes to big tech services, given that EY did not opt for Microsoft Teams.

If there is indeed a security issue with Slack, then of course Microsoft and every other company are right to not use it, and ban its use amongst employees in light of data security concerns. However, even if security isn’t the issue, the more debatable competition stifling reasons behind Microsoft’s internal ban of Slack can easily be hidden with the front of security and business strategy.