Should We Welcome Microsoft's 'Predatory' Pricing?

from the monopoly-time dept

For some time there’s been concern about how Microsoft’s push into security software might square with its reputation (and conviction) as a monopolist. Depending on your point of view, the company could be seen as trying to profit from its own software vulnerabilities by selling security or abusing its monopoly by bundling anti-virus software along with its products. This dilemma appears to be coming to a head with the release of its OneCare security suite, which is priced significantly below that of equivalent competitor packages. On the blog of one security company, the case is made that the company is guilty of predatory pricing, in a deliberate attempt to damage the competition. There’s no doubt that Microsoft does want to take shots at its competitors — that’s what all businesses do. What’s funny though is that the argument boils down to the fact that OneCare is too good of a deal, that its licensing terms are too flexible, and that a software package of its caliber just shouldn’t be so affordable. All this sounds pretty good for consumers, whom the law should ultimately be designed to protect. If security software is such a commodity that price is the only concern for customers, then the price should be dropping. In addition to the direct concerns about pricing, the company argues that Microsoft will establish a monopoly in the space, and that investment in new research and startups will dry up. One reason this isn’t likely is that security software doesn’t lend itself to a natural monopoly the way an OS does (not to mention the fact that the vaunted Windows monopoly itself is seen as weakening). On the issue of future investment in the area, this too seems like a red herring. Microsoft’s monopoly hasn’t killed innovation; in fact it prompted entrepreneurs and investors to pursue a radical new envisioning of how software could be developed and distributed using the web. Getting the government to preserve the status quo in the security space would be the last way to ensure a dynamic, innovative market.

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Comments on “Should We Welcome Microsoft's 'Predatory' Pricing?”

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Ted Shelton (user link) says:

Misses the point of predatory pricing

While TechDirt is normally right on the money, this post makes the mistake of equating a temporary low price with a general trend in a given market.

The problem with monopolists is that they can use their monopoly power in one category to create an unfair competitive advantage in an adjacent market.

In this case, Microsoft may be pricing security software at a lower price than is rational as a stand-alone business because they are subsidizing this business via their core monopoly. By doing this Microsoft can eliminate competition in this segment by making it unprofitable for others to compete. Later, once the competitors have been eliminated, Microsoft is then free to price their product at whatever they wish (no competitive pressure).

Thus there is an illusion that consumers benefit from predatory pricing practices — it is an illusion because it is short-lived and in the long run the consumer suffers from the reduction of competition and the emergence of a monopolist who can dictate price to the market.

slide23 says:

Re: Monopoly: I'm only going to say this once

Repeat after me:

“Monopolies only exist by government permission.”

People really need to grow a clue about the whole monopoly thing. Is MS saying that you can ONLY use their OS and office suite? On the other hand, I would certainly love to see telcos and utilities use some truth in advertising.

AT&T, Qwest, Verizon: “Bet you’d like to be able to call your friends…”

Electric companies: “What are you going to do? Buy a generator?”

Gas companies: “Boy! It sure gets cold without a working furnace!”

And my favorite, Department of Highways: “Yup, the roads suck. Too bad!”

CB says:

MS is just trying to gain marketshare...

When you’re releasing a new product, into a market you have not previously penetrated you have a 0% marketshare. Thus, in order for Microsoft to actual compete with the big dogs, aka Symantec, McAfee, Trend – they MUST do something drastic to steal some of that market share from their competitors. Once their marketshare ceases to grow at a fast rate, they’ll raise the price to that of their competitors and compete on reliability rather than price.

tom says:

Re: MS is just trying to gain marketshare...

When you buy a GM car or a Toyota, do they try to sell you an add-on safety kit to go with it. NO! because the car is supposed to meet inherently safe standards in the first place.

MS is making Swiss cheese software, and then gets rewarded for that by selling you more crap to make the crap OS better. What a deal!!

If you recall the IE / Netscape scenario, IE was supposed to be “free”?? in Windows 98, but when XP came out the price of the OS had about doubled. Was IE still “free”, or was it ever “free”?

Frink says:

I think this is a great idea. I hope it works out well for them. After they destroy all the competition they should then charge every Windows user a $100 per year fee for a subscription to their anti-virus software while they continue to spew out billions of lines of bug-filled code. It’s all just part of that wonderful Windows experience.

acousticiris says:

Security Software as a Comodity

“If security software is such a commodity that price is the only concern for customers, then the price should be dropping.”

There are stark differences in quality among vendors offering security software. I’d imagine most end-users only at the price, assuming that every virus scanner catches every virus, every malware removal tool removes every piece of malware, and every firewall provides the same level of protection from threats on the Internet.

I have not used Microsoft’s OneCare, but considering that it is a product that’s designed to make another Microsoft product more secure…I am skeptical. And I think many other’s would be as well. So is it predatory pricing, or just Microsoft realizing that OneCare would flop if it was the same price as their competitors.

It’s up to the security companies that offer competing products to identify what differentiates them from their peers — a task, thus far, they have not been very successful at.

Alex Eckelberry (user link) says:

A lot of people have focused on the consumer part of my blog posting — where I talk about OneCare. In fact, the major issue is on the enterprise, where Microsoft has significantly underpriced the market.

I compete with free and inexpensive products all the time, and in fact, I have a free firewall myself that I give away. The point is not price — the point is predatory pricing — where a large manufacturer like Microsoft comes into a market and undercuts the incumbents. Perhaps some may think it’s nothing to be concerned about, and perhaps they are right. One might, however, propose that the security industry should be a vibrant, diverse one; and that the business should not be dominated by one vendor who can be taken down by attack; and to whom the majority of the community relies upon. If Microsoft wants to compete fairly, I have absolutely _no_ problem with that. But if they want to undercut the market, it makes things a bit different.

Remember 15 years ago, we had a variety of databases to choose from. Today we have primarily SQL and Access. The same goes for languages — we had Borland and other really innovative companies. Now we have only Microsoft. The majority of the market moved to IE. And after that, we had the massive wave of adware and spyware, directly targeted at IE. And on and on and on. Is this healthy in the security market? Will new companies be able to get funding for their products? Will businesses continue to invest in this space, given that Microsoft may dominate? Do you really want security to be a monoculture?

I’ve posted several follow-up posts on my blog on the subject.

Alex Eckelberry

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:


I’m afraid I don’t understand a bunch of your statements. First you say that you give away products (price it at zero), undercutting the market of other competitors, and then complain that Microsoft does the same thing to you.

How is that predatory pricing? As far as I can tell it’s just pricing you don’t like.

Alex Eckelberry (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Mike – If you look at my statements in the context of a normal free market, they might very well appear illogical. For example, I have built my business on having aggressive prices, combined with quality products and good support. That’s normal, that’s good and that’s classic market economics working for the benefit of all.

However, in the US, the definition of predatory pricing was created by anti-trust legislators to deal the idea of a dominant player comes into a market, underprices the competition and then raises prices after the competition is wiped out. Now, whether or not Microsoft will raise prices subsequent to destroying the competition is unknown. And, in reality, predatory pricing is largely an arcane legal concept, rarely practiced in jurisprudence because it’s so hard to prove.

The bigger point is: Will Microsoft dramatically undercutting the security market be a good thing for the state of security in the long run?

This situation is unique as Microsoft is the provider of the platform and much of the software that runs on top of it. Software itself is a zero cost-of-goods product, the only costs being related its development, marketing and so on. So you can, literally, sell software for a penny and if you sell it in enough volume, recoup your expenses. In normal industries, predatory pricing is difficult, because there’s only so much a company can realistically lose before it throws in the towel.

However, in the software business, it’s different because of the cost margin, and with Microsoft able to make its real money from OS sales, it is in the enviable position of being able to lose literally hundreds of millions of dollars without major effect.

It is because of their unique position that they have been able to dominate most of the markets they have gone into.

To put it in a more personal sense, would you like to start a security software (or hardware) company in this environment?

Again, the real question I have been trying to pose is: Will a Microsoft hegemony in security be a good thing for the health of the security industry? If people think that’s a good thing, I will rest my case and move on.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

However, in the US, the definition of predatory pricing was created by anti-trust legislators to deal the idea of a dominant player comes into a market, underprices the competition and then raises prices after the competition is wiped out.

Can you give one example in the software industry where this has happened? It seems like prices continue to drop, and if they’re raised, it opens up opportunities for new entrants.

The bigger point is: Will Microsoft dramatically undercutting the security market be a good thing for the state of security in the long run?

Oh come on. I could just as easily phrase the question as follows:

If Microsoft fixed their own software so that it didn’t need so many security solutions, is that a good thing for the state of security?

You chose to be in a business where you were dependent on Microsoft keeping its product crappy. That’s a business risk.

Secondly, you chose to be in a space where, if you were 100% successful, you would put yourself out of business anyway.

Again, these are business decisions.

To complain about the market changing seems silly.

Again, the real question I have been trying to pose is: Will a Microsoft hegemony in security be a good thing for the health of the security industry? If people think that’s a good thing, I will rest my case and move on.

Read Joe’s post again. He explains why, yes, it likely will be a good thing.

slide23 says:

Re: Is that really all we have now?

Remember 15 years ago, we had a variety of databases to choose from. Today we have primarily SQL and Access.

Excuse me? What about Oracle and MySQL? dBase, Sybase, PostGRE… How’s that FOSS for predatory pricing? And maybe some of those that have passed are not really missed because they had pathetic performance. Or the companies were poorly managed. We should not sustain failed business models for some nice feeling of competition in the marketplace; performance and management are part of a business model.

As far as languages, we are hardly limited to MS’ offerings, even if we only want to develop for Windows. As a software engineer, I get to pick the best tool for the job. Sometimes it is a V*++ or V*# language. But there are plenty of languages to choose from. The right tool for the job.

And when it comes to any product in the marketplace, may the best player win. If MS makes the best product (somehow I doubt it), then I hope they bury everyone else. But I think it will be a safe assumption that someone will offer a FOSS or inexpensive AV app that will spank OneCare up, down, left, right, and sideways.

Rikko says:


Remember 15 years ago, we had a variety of databases to choose from. Today we have primarily SQL and Access. The same goes for languages — we had Borland and other really innovative companies. Now we have only Microsoft.


Take a look outside your immediate industry/employment niche and things will look different. SQL and Access? SQL as a language, I hope you meant. Oracle, SQLBase (annoyingly), open source solutions.. There’s lots out there, and from the last company I was at (manufacturing sector software), MS databases didn’t hold a majority stake at those companies.

Same for languages.. Microsoft can lay claim to VB and C# (and not for long, really, with Mono shaping up nicely), but the “real” software is still C and C++. Java is also a bloody MONSTER in international markets and in non-desktop PC deployments. Delphi still has a strong following.

MS are probably the biggest fish in the sea, but they’re certainly no bigger than the rest of the fish put together. Not by a long shot, I’d say. Apologies if I misunderstood your words, but you seem to be more intimidated by MS than they really deserve.

Alex Eckelberry (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Right, and this is why Borland literally abandoned its database business and is selling off its language business. I’m an ex Borlander myself and it’s pretty sad to see the state of the languages businesss.

Oracle’s primary business is in large enterprise. For the average small to medium businesses, it’s most common to see Access and MS SQL.

As regards C++ and C, what compiler is the most used?

DittoBox (user link) says:

It's extortion

OneCare is extortion. Although I really don’t like any “security” product I see them as necessary evils…the same way I see insurance.

However when the insurance agent is also your docter, you’ve got a major conflict of interest going on.

Microsoft now has an incentive to leave security holes in their products. Now they’ve gone from incompetent fools to organized criminals (some argue they already were…).

This is bad.

doubledoh says:

Re: It's extortion

Microsot: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

For years, everyone complained that windows is extremely insecure and that it’s all microsoft’s fault. Microsoft attempts to fix this bad security image with a security product, and now they’re extortionists?

I bet you Microsoft wanted to simply build an antivirus program into Windows to do away with a need to spend 50 bucks a year at McAfee or Norton…but they couldn’t out of fear that they would be sued for making their product too beneficial for their customers by “bundling.”

I’m so tired of you anti-market people out there that think Microsoft is some kind of monster. They sell software. Period. If you don’t like their software, don’t use it. You sure as hell shouldn’t condone the idea that other COMPETITORS get to sue or lobby governments to punish successful companies from trying to improve their products, or god forbid, their shareholder’s bottom lines. I’m tired of people that actually think profiting is evil! You profit every time you take home a paycheck. Don’t like profits? Send ME your paycheck. OR…stop being such hypocrites.

How is it any other company’s right to dictate what another company’s software or software lineup should or shouldn’t contain?

I obviously lve in irrational times where this can even be a point of debate. Freedom is dead.

Observer says:

Checking in with the real world

OK people, how about a different view. Think of it like this: the US military churns out thousands of highly trained wariors every year. They are also in the business of making ever-better protective gear for the soldiers, because they AREN’T bullet proof and people keep finding new ways to penerate existing armor. It’s not that the soldiers or the existing armor aren’t up to par, it’s that they are constantly under attack by increasingly sophisticated enemies.

Similarly, nobody can make a “bulletproof” operating system…with the combined effort of a few thousand hackers, any system will eventually fall. That’s why Operating Systems need evolving armor. Few people think ill of the military for investing in new and better ways to protect the troops that they train.

Microsoft is relatively “insecure” compared to other operating systems for the same reason celebrities are relatively insecure compared to us normal people: THEY HAVE A PUBLIC FACE UNDER CONSTANT SCRUITANY, AND FEW PEOPLE GIVE A RAT’S ASS ABOUT EACH OF US. There’s no profit in attacking Linux or Mac because so few people actually use them.

But if, say, Linux was magically the dominant OS and was subject to tens of thousands of attacks from digilent “security researchers” every day, then you same pundits would be sitting here complaining about how “insecure” Linux is every time someone finds an attack that works.

Most of the people who post here seem to think like each other…but just because you represent the majority here don’t think you represent the majority of real people. Check out a monitoring site like:

…and see what the real world looks like. Check out the O/S share trends. XP up, Mac has some nice gains, and “other” dwindling away. There’s still more Win98 users than Linux users. Don’t believe your own hype guys…

Antimatter3009 says:

Re: Checking in with the real world

Your comment would be more valid if

a) the military charged the soldiers for new armor


b) Linux were actually as insecure as Windows.

Sorry, but Windows is far more insecure simply based on the administrator model, let alone all of the other problems. Plus, there’s tons to be made in attacking Linux…just imagine how many large comapnies’ servers run it. The market share figures simply show the market and advertising power of Microsoft, nothing else. Most people who use a computer don’t have any idea what’s going on. OSX is making nice gains for those that are starting to realize Windows is no good, so are moving to a better OS, or those who are moving from Linux to a “simpler” but similar OS. Linux is almost in a different market. It does not really appeal to those who like Windows or OSX.

Observer says:

Re: Re: Checking in with the real world

It’s relevant because:

a) The taxpayers pay for the new armor, just like they payed for the initial training. Security is a continuing investment…you don’t expect your home to be burglerproof just because it’s new. And even if it WAS, you wouldn’t expect it to be ready for the smarter, stronger criminal of tomorrow.

b) “Secure” is a very subjective term open to debate. Again, if Linux were under constant attack by thousands of determined hackers, you’d see plenty of problems. And still, I’ve seen plenty of linux-hosted sites “powned” by hacker groups just long enough to get their grafiti up there.

As a CS major at MIT, I use a variety of systems all the time. Linux is great for power users and experimenters. The issue is this: Linux is NOT suitable for use by the masses, so it’s “security” is a moot point to the vast majority of people. It wouldn’t do most people any good to have their Windows installation replaced by something they can’t use for every little thing…and by the time their systems were modified to the point where it behaved like they wanted, I guarantee it would be a lot more vulnerable than you’d like it.

Brian J. Bartlett says:


Alex, the problem here in the enterprise security space is that we have a ‘known’ monopolist practicing ‘predatory pricing’ in a known (at least to myself) oligopoly. The plain fact of the matter is that there has been zero competition in the enterprise security market for a long time. I can safely say that as both a practicing security specialist and a still practicing econometrician (statistical economist for those that haven’t met the term before).

It would be nice to see a new entrant into this market for once who brings some price competitiveness. Frankly, I can think of only a few companies on the planet that can actual overcome the existing barriers to entry at all. An oligopoly, for it to function, requires significant barriers to entry and by God, you sure have it in this market.

If you want, bring it to court. You won’t win.

nonuser says:

I'm not a fan of Microsoft

or their blatant monopolistic abuses in the past against Netscape, Real Networks, Sun, IBM OS/2, DR-DOS etc. but this situation is different. Machine security is not an application that provides useful value add to customers, but rather is part of the system housekeeping that belongs to the realm of operating systems. So Symantec had it right the first time when their former CEO said, 10-15 years ago, that Microsoft was perfectly within its rights to sell or bundle anything they wanted that improved the security of their OS.

Go ahead and complain about Microsoft’s abuses of its monopoly, but find a more relevant example to make the point.

Brian J. Bartlett says:

Dominant firm

One additional thought about economic definitions. They are very exact for a reason: to prevent them from being twisted into something unintended. Microsoft is not the dominant firm in the enterprise security market. In order for any new firm to enter a market against any or all existing firms in a market, they will have to engage in significant market price cutting. That is how any new entrant gains market share and has been historically true in any competitive market (which this market is not, but that’s an earlier post).

When you use an economic term, just as with any medical term, you have to use the whole of a definition. You wouldn’t want your doctor confusing influenza with appendicitis because he only used part of the definition of the symptoms, would you?

Mitch the Bitch says:

Time for MS to get predatory with Windows

When I built my first Windows box bacik in the mid eighties I spent nearly $4000. Windows was less than a $100. It was a very small percentage of the over all cost of the PC. Today for under a grand you can build a high perf machine and for under $400 a business level box. The OS cost ratio has gotten way out of hand and needs to be adjusted. How much profit is enough? When a guy like me begins to shake hiis head it’s time for MS to wake up.

That said Ive always been pro MS. Yes they may have faults but in the long run the the good things theyve done for this industry far outweigh the things theyve done bad.

Lower the PRICE of Windows already. Im hearing over $400 for Vista Ultimate and Im having a hard time with that.


“Don’t pee on my leg then tell me it’s raining”.

MS Blows says:

Re: Time for MS to get predatory with Windows

“Yes they may have faults but in the long run the the good things theyve done for this industry far outweigh the things theyve done bad. ”

I can’t think of anything that MS has done to better computing. The only decent technology that they created was dhcp, and that wasnt entirely them. They are not innovative. Their tactic is beat down the competition and buy them when they’re cheap. Then sell their software under the MS brand. They did it dos, windows, ie, access, sql, excel, and pretty much every other product they offer.

The statement you made about their good outweighing the bad couldnt be further from the truth. They crippled the linux market, and any other innovate technology by making their ways “the standard”. They are following in the foot steps of IBM, and look at them now, they have to sell of parts of the company because no one will follow their trends anymore. I honestly believe MS will, and is already beginning to follow that trend.

I can honestly say that the day they love the majority share of OS’s I won’t be the least bit dissapointed.

Dimitri says:

security software

Such a move is not uncommon for MS. They will take it all. Security software vendors will have to work with niches to survive. Part of their market is in firewalls and routers anyway. MS itself introduced the personal firewall in Windows a couple years ago. However I don’t know if it is bad for me (as a regular windows user). My car for example comes with an alarm from the factory and I am glad I don’t have to install one and live with potential configuration and compatibility problems (along with the posibility of damaging something).

HUH? says:

Maybe we should feer OS preditory pricing

I think the Goverment should crack down on Linux and Open office for being free. (Not really but there is a point in that being silly)

Geez.. Price for feature a capability Microsofts products are still less than they were when they didn’t own the market.

When people are done worrying about poorly run companies that blame Microsoft for thier woes..

Maybe they can worry about the consumer that probably pays more for Windows because of government meddling and sometimes has the Government tell them to give the customer less.

Monsuco says:

M$ doesn't have a monopoly, rather they control pu

M$ may be in violation of various anti-trust laws, but they don’t have a monopoly per say. They only can sell copies of Windows because people will pay it, and people only pay it because they want to believe they are getting something in return dispite their lack of a physical product. What they get, instead is a series of 1’s and 0’s that tells a PC how to work. But MS isn’t the only one who can provide you with stuff to make your computer work. Apple Computing can, but they have very draconian pricing and have a very high TCO. Then, MS’s OS could easily be replaced by the two free alternatives, Linux OS and BSD OS. A monopoly is were you are the only one providing a product, and as you can see, there are 4 major groups providing products, 2 of which are free. MS may have around 90% (and falling) but they will loose if people ever stop believing that software should be something that one purchases. Antivirus is simmilar. One could easily use Linux or BSD (or ugh, a Mac) and never deal with viruses, one could use McAffee, Norton, or MS OneCare, or one could use AVG or Avast, which are free for private use or one could use the Windows port of ClamAV, ClamWin, which is open source. Plus many ISP’s give away AV software. MS can feel free to include OneCare into their low end OS. I just doubt they will be able to maintane their hold on public opinion, the belief that one “needs windows” for long.

Professor HighBrow (user link) says:

What if there was only one large car manufacturer that dominated the auto market, but all the cars they made had their own security systems pre-installed. Would their be a healthy competetive market for better vehicle security?

How about one gigantic real estate company that builds houses that the overwhelming majority of the population lives in? Except they also provide a security alarm system for every house they build.

Which situation is better for the consumer? Which provides for the most competition, a better product, and a more CAPITALIST market?

The answer is obvious. No one else would make any money building a better car alarm or home security system, would they?

So explain exactly how LACK of competition can possibly be benefitial to anyone but the stockholders of a monopoly

–Prof HiB.

Me says:


I say way go to communism, I mean that is what everyone wants on this posting board. Let the government tell us what type of business we are allowed to get in. This is absolutely ridiculous. If the price gets to high, more competition will arise. Is this the best thing for security. Right now there are two dominant players in the security field, Symantec and McAfee. Why is no one screaming about this. Just b/c this is MS.

When you buy a car, does the salesman try to upsale you. When you buy a house, does the realator try to get you in the most expensive. When you buy anything, isn’t the salesperson job to upsale you?

This is an ignorant group yelling b/c you don’t like MS, nothing else.

For those of you that don’t think MS changed the computing world, please, how many offices in the world rely on MS to run business verse others?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Idiots

Amen brother, You always here about these people complaining prices are too high and there aren’t any options available. Now that someone is trying to give another option (albeit MS) everybodys throwing a fit. So do you want a monopoly or what? Seems like you guys are a little torn on that issue.

Chris G says:

Monopoly this, monopoly that. Give it a rest.

Every single time Microsoft sets it’s foot in a market, everyone with a foot in that market crys out in shreaking agony. Why? Because it is cliche. Microsoft may be a threat but they are a threat because they are competition. If you don’t like competition, get the hell out of your business and apply at McDonalds cause I am sick of your needless bitching. Either that, or create quality software (yea right – if you had the ability to create quality software you wouldn’t be threatened by anyone much less Microsoft).

Microsoft has never stopped anyone from being able to install any type of software on their OS. Nope, don’t even go there with your technical babble, I don’t really care to know how low your IQ is.


The only reason people jump all over Microsoft when they become a competitor is because it has become very acceptable to do so. Stop jumping on the bandwagon and be an innovator. You claim that MS is not an innovator, well, neither are you. If you were, your product would be #1.

No one has ever had a good excuse for disagreeing with Microsoft that I have ever heard. Every person I’ve ever heard argue something against Microsoft showed me just how low their IQ really is.

Walt says:

Security Suites

I don’t feel too sorry for the security industry. McAfee had a great product in “Clinic” and then NAI exerted its control over McAfee and took Clinic off the market and raised prices. Symantec has always had problems with their product interfering with other software and is also expensive. I’ve used several other vendors programs in the last few years and have been impressed with Panda, Grisoft (AVG), and now Nod32. There’s Kaspersky and other good solutions for anti-virus, etc. I think the ones who will be hurt are Symantec and McAfee, who have already been on my don’t buy list for some time.

I would really like to see some improvement in the maintenance sector with programs like iolo’s System Mechanic. Every other one I’ve seen has an even worse interface and causes unpredictable results. This category of product needs some competition also to spruce up the ease of use and remove the unintended consequences.

Lee says:

Re: Security Suites

I got to this site by typing in onecare and extortion. Got 53000 hits.

My gripe is that if this software makes windows better then why doesn’t MS incorporate it into its OS? Is the assumption that some users don’t want increased security and maintenance? I contend that NS wants to “Hook” you with their OS, for which they have a near monopoly, then to extort additional “protection” money. I doub this will be the only MS product to dupe users into additional contributions

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