Why don’t people talk about breaking up Microsoft?

By the excellent Alec Stapp, here is the closing bit:

Or perhaps Microsoft has successfully avoided receiving the same level of antitrust scrutiny as the Big Four because it is neither primarily consumer-facing like Apple or Amazon nor does it operate a platform with a significant amount of political speech via user-generated content (UGC) like Facebook or Google (YouTube). Yes, Microsoft moderates content on LinkedIn, but the public does not get outraged when deplatforming merely prevents someone from spamming their colleagues with requests “to add you to my professional network.”

Microsoft’s core areas are in the enterprise market, which allows it to sidestep the current debates about the supposed censorship of conservatives or unfair platform competition. To be clear, consumer-facing companies or platforms with user-generated content do not uniquely merit antitrust scrutiny. On the contrary, the benefits to consumers from these platforms are manifest. If this theory about why Microsoft has escaped scrutiny is correct, it means the public discussion thus far about Big Tech and antitrust has been driven by perception, not substance.

Here is the whole article.  I would say there is very little about the current version of Microsoft that challenges the supposedly correct status relations in American society.


LinkedIn is the most politically correct social network of all time. Big businesses force a version of PC that would make the most ardent social justice warriors on campus blush. Funny that free market types support these limits to speech which impact regular Americans while getting angry at blue-haired college students who have no impact outside their little circle. Google the other day banned all political conversations at work.


I see lots of "free market types" who are critical of big business PC.

That article isn't a very good example of problematic speech restrictions, though. Basically, Google issued some guidelines saying that employees should be nice to each other and shouldn't spend lots of time in political debates at work. Here is the sum total of what the guidelines say about politics:

"While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not. Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics."

Does somebody disagree with this? There have been reports of problematic PC behavior by Google, but this does not appear to be such a case to me.

Google can ban whatever it wants within its property, in essentially the same manner that a private home owner can ban political conversations within their home, up to and including having anyone who breaks the rules of the homeowner leave their property.

Actually they can't, because they consider themselves a platform and not a publisher, and so enjoy the protection thereof:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes online platforms for their users’ defamatory, fraudulent, or otherwise unlawful content. Congress granted this extraordinary benefit to facilitate “forum[s] for a true diversity of political discourse.” This exemption from standard libel law is extremely valuable to the companies that enjoy its protection, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but they only got it because it was assumed that they would operate as impartial, open channels of communication—not curators of acceptable opinion.

'Actually they can't, because they consider themselves a platform'

You realize we are talking about Google employees within (or using) Google's property, right? Admittedly, I did not think it necessary to quote what I was responding to - 'Google the other day banned all political conversations at work.'

'Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act' has precisely zero to do with Google employees being told what is, and what is not, acceptable while on the job.

'This exemption from standard libel law' has precisely zero to do with Google employees being told what is, and what is not, acceptable while on the job.

Section 230 just means social media is not liable for stuff posted by its users. That's all. If somebody posts ISIS propaganda on Facebook, which is against Federal law, then the company is not responsible for that. They are not prevented from removing content. Heck this blog removes "cuck" comments daily and there's nothing wrong with that.

FYI, Section 230 was recently modified in 2018 to remove safe harbor for content related to sex trafficking. Strange that there has been not a peep from the usual free speech defenders about this affront to liberty.

It's a bit more complicated than that. Before Section 230, if a platform edited content, then it was liable for the content. This was on the theory that the platform stood behind content that was not censored (like a newspaper not retracting a story). Section 230 made a platform not liable even if it edited content (assuming it followed some other guidelines).

Modern employers go well beyond that. They'll fire you for saying the wrong thing in your home, too.

Amusingly, in an at will employment state, an employer does not even need to care about providing any reason at all before firing an employee.

But why would they? Senior management is proud of how they struck a blow for their side.

Let's face it, 2019 American has the same 'stifling conformity' that you'd have found in a 1950's small town, except you can't even move to escape it anymore.

Can a "Public" company say and do anything they want to OR are they required to obey laws and regulations like the rest of us???

The anti-PC people like Bret Stephens turn out to be the real snowflakes.


Which part of internal email you don't understand Remember Damore? Using internal email for personal issues is the equivalent of using the company credit card to pay at a strip bar. It is the perfect excuse to get rid of an employee when he or she becomes a nuisance.

I would like to have employees like that. Technically competent but idiots for real life.

Except that at the time, Google was encouraging people to use their internal resources in that way. They welcomed people discussing a wide variety of topics and provided resources to facilitate just that.

What makes the Damore incident so important is that it essentially broke that model.

'Except that at the time, Google was encouraging people to use their internal resources in that way.'

Axa's point still stands (think about it) - 'I would like to have employees like that. Technically competent but idiots for real life.'

Tip - if your boss invites you to frankly criticize your company's management, don't ever be dumb enough to actually do it. The same applies to claiming that one group of people is innately inferior, particularly when many of that group are your co-workers.

It was supposed* to be anonymous and, no, he did not call any groups inferior. *deduct points from him for actually believing that. * and I think he outed himself a few days after it blew up.

'and, no, he did not call any groups inferior'

Well, you are welcome to have your opinion about his words, of course - '“I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

My opinion is that he is saying that one half of the human race is simply, due to biological causes, not as good as the other half when it comes to seeing 'equal representation of women in tech and leadership.' That is, one half is deservedly in an inferior position to the other half, as reflected by what Damore considers to be proof of his claim.

But those are his actual words, and we know how meaningless that really is these days.

Your opinion doesn't seem to reflect either his words or the science.
His words don't seem to be claiming anyone's inferiority. Different groups have different preferences.

"Nations with greater gender equality tend to have a *lower* percentage of female STEM graduates"

"But those are his actual words, and we know how meaningless that really is these days." Ouch - self own.

'Your opinion doesn't seem to reflect either his words'

It is a direct quote - anyone is free to make up their own mind.

'Ouch - self own.'

Oops - I really did need to provide a link to his words, and not merely assert that the text was a direct quote, didn't I? Well, here is a link - https://gizmodo.com/exclusive-heres-the-full-10-page-anti-diversity-screed-1797564320

Pro tip - when someone starts talking about 'biological causes,' they seemingly are never talking about why the group they belong to is inferior, based on biology, compared to another groups. And in this case, Damore is trying to explain why it is really biology that provides a concrete underpinning for his opinion why women as a group are simply not expected to have equal representation in tech and leadership.

I disagree with his opinion, regardless of how he attempts to cloak it.

He's not making the claim, you are. His claim is backed up biology. See I don't even need to put it into scare quotes. Go to the twitter link, or the underlying link - https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797617741719.

"A mediation analysis suggested that life-quality pressures in less gender-equal countries promote girls’ and women’s engagement with STEM subjects." So, either accept science, and allow women to make their own choices, or don't. Women CHOOSE not to be in STEM.


Don't people who are into IQ discussions admit the higher IQ averages of Jews and East Asian compared to Europeans?

'Why don’t people talk about breaking up Microsoft?'

Because that subject was talked to death two decades ago?

'Or perhaps Microsoft has successfully avoided receiving the same level of antitrust scrutiny as the Big Four'

Well, Microsoft did have its day in court, compared to the Big Four - but why bring up findings of fact in a MR post. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Corp.

You could read the article...it addresses this.

Bing has ~2.5% global search market share, how do you square that with monopoly?

For X-Box and gaming, I'll steal this quote: "Content sales are king, and the console itself is simply incidental." Consoles are only 10% of money spent on gaming on North America. Halo sales should add to something, but not a game changer.

I can write as many f*cks as I desire in a Powerpoint or in an email sent by Outlook, MS will never censor/cancel my Office365 account because I don't follow community guidelines. Same for Skype.

FWIW, I think Microsoft is still on the 1990s philosophy of producing general purpose hardware and software. They have no "vision", and that's great.

I was merely responding to prior's claim that previous antitrust action against Microsoft is being ignored.

I don't think there is a good case for action against Microsoft. However, I largely agree with the article that none of these companies should be broken up (though they over-argue the point a bit).

You're on the money. MS is the new IBM, which had its time in the anti-trust barrel.

In many ways, MS biggest competitor is IBM. They are the "you won't be fired" choices with the infrastructure to bid in accordance with GSA, ISO9000, etc constraits.

Customers drive their strategy, not the vendor driving customer strategy.

'You could read the article'

Or just answer Prof. Cowen's headline question by itself. And if I read the article (why not at this point - I have the time), I wonder if it will address the fact that Microsoft has basically been a big loser, both in the Internet era, and in the smart phone era.

The idea that Microsoft has basically become this era's IBM, still seen as a 'monopoly' company though it has no real future apart from its already existing business is more than defensible. Who really cares about Wintel in the age of Linus/Android and ARM? It will be interesting to see if the article addresses that - which was not exactly obscure two decades ago, as the PC began losing its dominant position as a future oriented platform.

Or to put it differently - do you remember when Apple only made PC style devices in 2000? Do you still think of Apple as a PC company today? And want to guess when Microsoft made its very first attempt to develop OS software for cell phones? (Depending on how one defines the terms, about 15 years ago, by the way.)

Maybe somebody in 2010 could still make an uninformed but at least facilely plausible case that Microsoft was a monopoly. These days, the premise is laughable.

And after reading the article, with maybe 15 minutes worth of work, you could make it fit basically perfectly into 1989, replacing Microsoft with IBM. And I notice that the author seems to have skipped Microsoft's policy of having PC makers pay for Windows licenses for each PC, regardless of whether Windows was installed or not. An introduction to the 'Windows Tax' can be found here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundling_of_Microsoft_Windows

Again, the topic of M$ as monopoly was discussed to death 2 decades ago, and the article doesn't even seem much aware of that history, to be honest. Though it does seem to spend a fair amount of time on whatever Warren seems to think (really, who cares?)

Well, Linux, though Linus is considerably more entertaining than Gates (though not Ballmer).

"whatever Warren seems to think (really, who cares?)"

No fan of her, but she's the person most likely to be the next president.(I think Biden's senility will catch up to him, and Blumpf is toast)

'but she's the person most likely to be the next president'

Not in my opinion, and at this point, it truly is only a matter of opinion.

"(why not at this point - I have the time)"

Pretty much nails it with you.

"The idea that Microsoft has basically become this era's IBM, still seen as a 'monopoly' company though it has no real future apart from its already existing business is more than defensible."

And yet Microsoft is the worlds largest company by market value...

Transdigm cited by The American Conservative as a monopoly in the defense sector should be targeted for breakup. By limiting productive capacity in industries with captive buyers like medicine or defense, monopolistic firms can charge what ever they like. If a strike fighter, missile defense system, or any complex system is rendered inoperable because of one missing part, the bargaining power is magnified.


A civilian version of this is the smartphone patent wars where lawyers get richer while everybody else loses. One estimate says there are over 250,000 active patents that impact these devices. Who wants to start a business with 250k potential legal land mines?


If you are only buying a few hundred specially designed fighter planes, it's not practical to have multiple suppliers of the extremely low volume custom parts. The behavior described in the article sounds problematic, but I don't think "monopoly" is the problem.

A monopoly would be when only one company has the ability to make special fighter jet widgets. If multiple companies have that ability, but only one gets the contract, and it's not feasible to hand it over to someone else mid-project, so they can price gouge, that's not really a monopoly (but it would still enable the behavior described in the article).

Breaking up the conglomerate wouldn't solve it, because the bargaining power comes from being the only maker of a unique part, and the small suppliers would still have this power even if they were no longer part of the same big company. The government needs to solve this through better management of contracts, though it's a hard problem to eliminate completely.

I agree that patents are out of hand and harming innovation.

Microsoft is much less of a monopoly threat today than they were when the PC revolution was underway. There are a number of web browsers and operating systems today so you are free to switch unlike say the 1990s. The only monopoly case you could possibly make today is Microsoft Office but it would be a weak one.

What I don't like about Microsoft is the number of ads they put into Windows. I already pay for their cruddy OS and they double dip. With Apple, you pay up but you get privacy. With Google, you pay nothing but lose privacy. With Microsoft, you pay up and lose privacy.


The argument of the article is not that the anti-trust case against Microsoft is strong; rather, it's hard to differentiate the case against Microsoft from that against Google, Facebook, etc.--and this demonstrates that the arguments against the latter are weak.

I agree that one should not do policy based on social media outrage but the argument is wrong. Google lost and is now appealing an EU antitrust case brought by businesses, not consumers, that were affected by Google's practices. In particular, businesses that develop mobile apps could not use alternatives to the Google Play app store. In addition, Google exercised all kinds of control over the hardware ecosystem for Android.


For Apple, their antitrust case was brought by publishers fearing market dominance over e-books. Again, not consumer-facing.


Occam's razor here: there's no good reason to break up Microsoft.

Generally, one doesn't need to buy that new PC.

Plus, unlike the great NY Yankees teams, Microsoft is not so successful.

Bill Gates gave away more money than the combined earnings of every Yankee that ever lived.

My somewhat offbeat take. The traditional media, especially NYT and WSJ, have been running nonstop attacks against Google and Facebook because these two tech companies are closer to the consumer than they are, have the ability to commoditize content producers, and all the advertising dollars that used to go to mainstream media is going them instead, putting a lot of newspapers out of business. In other words, the old guard is trying to protect its turf against the onslaught from the upstarts.

Ironically, conservatives complaining about PC on Facebook seem to be helping them out.

It's Google's and Facebook's control over content that is bothersome. The percentage of people who rely on the two for content is very high, giving them control over what people think, what they think they know, and what they want. No, I don't believe it's some conspiracy to control peoples' minds, but it has that effect. Google and Facebook are just being good capitalists, trying to maximize advertising revenues. If it makes mush of peoples' brains, that's not Google's and Facebook's fault, it's the fault of their users who are too dimwitted to know they are being manipulated. Those who advocate breaking up Google and Facebook must assume that by having more social media sites and search engines, users will be directed to a broader range of content. That can only be true if (1) the writers of the algorithms for Google and Facebook are unique and their methods cannot or wouldn't be duplicated, or (2) the favored sites for directing traffic on other social media and search engines would be different (because, for example, they attract different advertisers). My guess is that there is only one horse in the barn, and adding a thousand writers of the algorithms or a thousand social media sites and search engines won't make much difference. People are not dimwitted in unique ways but in only a few ways. [An aside, the percentage of total digital advertising revenues captured by Google and Facebook has been declining, but is still nearly 70%].

Unfortunately, our assumptions about a Free Market in content and user generated speech appear to be false. The speech simply can't go elsewhere (and enjoy the same level of service).

Because of network effects, social media tends to a natural monopoly. And the vertical integration of services means there are further choke points for a Politically Correct Monopolist (or oligopolist) to impose pressure. Cloudflare, for example, or the payment companies.

I really hate to say it, but regulation for equal access is looking like the lesser of two evils.

Social media is not a natural monopoly. The fact that there is more than one such network is already proof of this. Don't like Twitter, use Mastodon. Don't like Whatsapp, use Signal.

Companies are allowed to police their own property to keep the users they are targeting and for their advertisers. One bad troll could easily lose thousands of real accounts. In the age of ubiquitous government propaganda and increasingly realistic fake video and audio, all this will be increasingly necessary.

>Don't like Twitter, use Mastodon. Don't like Whatsapp, use Signal.

Sure you can, if just want to shout into the wind.

(and, assuming the major platforms don't ban apps designed to access those services e.g., like they did to Gab).

'The speech simply can't go elsewhere' - Of course it can.

'(and enjoy the same level of service)' - If you are using someone's service, they set the terms and conditions of that use. Which has always been true, by way. A telephone company also 'censors' based on content - several uses of the phone, even ones merely involving speech, lead to service being cancelled, are against the law, or both.

'Cloudflare, for example' offers a service - you can be on the Internet without that service (think bittorrent or Mastodon).

'or the payment companies'

Well, if you are trying to profit from speech, then welcome to the actual marketplace, where other actors are free to not offer services to you,
regardless of your desire to earn a profit.

'but regulation for equal access is looking like the lesser of two evils'

No, it really isn't, but then the U.S. Constitution remains a radical and revolutionary document in its fundamental distrust of using governmental power in matters of speech or religion.

"then welcome to the actual marketplace, where other actors are free to not offer services to you, regardless of your desire to earn a profit."

That isn't how the marketplace actually works. Ask anyone who works in any industry other than tech and they'll tell you that their "right" to deny service to other businesses or selectively jack up the price is servery restricted: this is to prevent unfair competition and price manipulation.

'That isn't how the marketplace actually works.'

Of course it is. For example, 30 years ago, to buy a dual cassette VCR capable of dubbing tapes, you would have to go to a licensed seller of such equipment (there were basically two in the entire DC metro region at that time, by the way), and prove, to the seller's satisfaction, that you were actually someone professionally associated with the A/V industry who would be allowed to buy such equipment. You will find the same thing concerning things like police equipment today. Welcome to the real marketplace, where various players have considerable power, even if most people are unaware of it.

And to be more relevant, this is also true concerning those who own printing presses - they decide what gets printed or not, and always have.

Printed on their presses, just to be clear. Obviously, the owner does not have the power to stop you from using another printer - like the one attached to your PC, for example.

'there is very little about the current version of Microsoft that challenges the supposedly correct status relations in American society'
- I am sorry but I don't quite understand what this sentence means.

Google, twitter, facebook, and amazon have broadened access to information, publishing, broadcast communication, networking, and infrastructure to groups of people who previously had no access to it. The people who already had these benefits because of their institutional and financial status don't like it, and they are trying to stop it (often under the guise of atoning for their identity status).

It means that we have gone through the looking glass when talking about policy, essentially.

The author is arguing as follows: "The facts against Microsoft are weak. Some of the same legal arguments exist against the other companies. Therefore, the facts against the other companies must also be weak."

This is not persuasive.


Microsoft had its day in court and is subject to a consent decree for the items where they are dominant.

Breaking up Microsoft would be pointless, if one believes the meme about their org-chart.

You cannot break apart, that which is not really together.
(though if one did, maybe whichever part manages to keep ownership for Windows 10 would see it within it's power to write an instruction manual for the damn thing)

I think we were totally cheated in 2001. I'll share my guess as to why.

To paraphrase Ray Lopez, the word "intelligence" does not appear in this article. ("Spy" does, but not in the right sense.)

The antitrust case went badly for MS, it proved that they had leveraged one monopoly (OS) to create another (Applications) and exercised unfair advantage in a third (browsers). To top it off, they were proven to have provided false, (manufactured!) evidence to the Supreme Court of the United States.

You'd think they'd go down a that point. Rather than skate because the Judge, having enough of their shit, had become "biased."

So what happened? Something I can never prove, or even assign more than 51% probability to myself, but I think it "happened" based on that 1% margin.

On the ropes, MS said to you US government "you know, we have a lot of back doors .. and MS products are used all over the world"

I think a deal for national intelligence was done. Now how does that relate to any current antitrust case (even in a Democratic government)?

Well, what is their intelligence potential?

No, I think the Clinton DOJ was just getting MS to open up shop on K street. They were making too much money. Google and FB's problems are going away too, as they are already contributing.


The MS investigations actually date to the early 1990s.

And MS was a predatory monopoly, one that actually held back the entire field of computer science (which is why I hated them at that point). So for whatever reason the DOJ brought the case, I was with them.

And for whatever reason the GWB DOJ finished it, I was pissed.


Big heat was in the middle of Clinton's time. Early 90s stuff was over. GWBs DOJ didn't end anything - the court case was decided.

You gotta look at how we got from Judge Jackson and one conclusion (an ordered break-up) and Judge Kollar-Kotelly and a wind-down.

This is the key GWB DOJ decision:

"September 6, 2001: U.S. Justice Department says it no longer seeks the breakup of Microsoft and wants to find a quick remedy in the antitrust case."

Looks like this is how:"June 28, 2001: A federal appeals court reverses the breakup order." Break up was a dumb idea anyways, why would W's DOJ proceed with a losing battle it doesn't believe in?

By the way, times change and I love them now:


I never thought they held anyone back (too much). They were just successful. They have learned to play nicer though, maybe since Gates stepped down, or just by necessity.

Bingo! Thanks to anonymous, I was actually keyword searching "LAW" in this thread and nobody mentioned the elephant in the room except anonymous, who happened coincidentally to mention me. The answer to the puzzle is "res judicata", as implied in anonymous' answer (obviously anonymous is not a lawyer, but the gist of his answer, and the answer to TC's question, is res judicata).

A lot of people don't realize how much law and lawyers shapes American society and public discourse, as well as TC's "supposedly correct status relations in American society". After all, most members of Congress are lawyers.

Thanks Ray. Fwiw, I think the intelligence angle is something we should all keep an eye on - with respect to monopoly and other stuff.

If MS has been "helpful" in ways the government might not to discuss, it would also explain the confidence the government has that they must keep Huawei out of US infrastructure.

"Microsoft’s core areas are in the enterprise market, which allows it to sidestep the current debates about the supposed censorship of conservatives or unfair platform competition. To be clear, consumer-facing companies or platforms with user-generated content do not uniquely merit antitrust scrutiny. On the contrary, the benefits to consumers from these platforms are manifest. If this theory about why Microsoft has escaped scrutiny is correct, it means the public discussion thus far about Big Tech and antitrust has been driven by perception, not substance."

I don't care about X, therefore there's no substance to your argument about X.

I think in all of these cases (Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter), all talk of breaking them up is frivolous, because there is obvious benefits to the public of having a uniform computing platform, in the case of Microsoft, and having a unified social network in the case of Twitter/Facebook. Breaking them up would, for instance mean that your friends would suddenly be on a different platform, which makes no sense. Or that workers would have harder times transitioning between jobs because they would have to learn a different OS.

By contrast, the phone companies shared the telephone wires so it wasn't like people would suddenly be unreachable via your phone when Bell telephone was split up. All of the cell phone networks work together.

If you want to break something up, break up the big ISPs, along similar lines, so that there's more regional competition among ISPs.

You don't need a company for a unified computing platform. In fact there are tons of open standards in place which are actually more central to our digital world than any one company.

Kind of amusing that this introduction is hosted by IBM, but there it is.

Possible, though I don't think we need to break up MS for that to happen. It's possible that Linux could evolve into a universal computing platform. I already do most of my work in Ubuntu.

Debian, i3, urxvt, thunar and I must admit google-chrome.

(Some argue that the Internet remained free and open because one, single, piece of software was free and open. That's the Apache web server. Without it, it's momentum, and commitment to open standards, the world would have fallen to IIS, and then it would have been a MSNet. )

(Technical people will remember how hard MS tried to integrate MS DLLs into internet standards, for this reason, to lock a platform.)

ActiveX, that's the name my old brain wouild not cough up.

In other words the current fracas about tech companies isn't about the abuse of monopoly power, but about some political nutcases getting butt hurt over not being allowed to behave online like playground bullies.

Sure, he Left is behaving like playground bullies. But those are private platforms so if they want to bully people they don't like, it might be despicable, but it's certainly legal. They don't have to be tolerant or just and hypocrisy isn't a crime.

Breaking up these companies is the wrong solution. Breaking up one company which collects your data and censors your content into multiple companies that collect your data and censor your content is no improvement. And so long as these companies are located in a monoculture like Silicon Valley, and staffed with people from monocultures like Harvard and the California university system, you will just keep getting the same thing.

Here are three suggestions for legislative fixes that might actually do something about this:

1. Repeal Section 230. Force all content providers to be neutral, or accept responsibility for the content on their networks.

2. We need a law that forces the destruction of personal data collected online after a suitable period - say, a year, The real danger of personal data collection is not what advertisers can do with it today, but what the AI of tomorrow will be able to do with it. Let companies track you for a while for better ad targeting, but don't let them archive personal information about you forever.

3. Either force search algorithms to be open so that the public can see how search results are determined, or create an auditor that can, in secret, verify that the algorithms are not slanted, or someone should create a testing agency like UL labs that rates search engines for accuracy and bias.

Those three things would fix most of the major problems we are facing from big tech today.

because Linux is now effective competition for windos.

Divestiture remedies with respect to Microsoft difficult because of the integrated nature of the software products (except for IE). Integration provides efficiencies, and divestiture creates transaction costs and the same level of coordination between separate divested entities.

The Trump Organization, however, would be easier to break up .

I think we have beaten the Microsoft thing to death.

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