EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS

11.23.07

Astroturfing Examples: Learning How Microsoft Tames the Internet

Posted in Bill Gates, Marketing, Microsoft, Windows at 4:14 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Due to recent (and suspicious) trolling activity I’ve promised to post some new examples of Microsoft astroturfing.

Let it be clear that the following are not speculations. Most of them are clear examples that are well recorded, confirmed, and they are also quite recent (there are far more known examples if one goes further into the past). The issue has become so serious that the EU has decided to crack down on fake blogger astroturfing.

But back to the web, and with sneaky marketing campaigns likely to be more effective than upfront marketing campaigns, what is stopping companies from simply risking it and continuing existing practices?

First, you are encouraged to have a look at this comprehensive ‘smoking gun’ court exhibit. Therein, Microsoft actually provides an admission that it intends to pay supposedly ‘independent’ professionals to praise Microsoft in public. But let’s consider some more recent evidence and examples, shall we?

Here is a case that got exposed a few months ago. Microsoft secretly paid influential bloggers to recite Microsoft slogans.

The stodgy old media industry has a rule that newspaper reporters, and TV news hosts, shouldn’t trade on their public trust to endorse products.

They got exposed and harshly criticised (only by a single site). Where was the press? No coverage of Microsoft astroturfing? Is the story not important enough? Were journalists scared of Microsoft's wrath? Regardless:

What would possess a collection of online publishers and venture capitalists to pimp a Microsoft advertising slogan?

Valleywag today reported about a site tied to a Microsoft ad campaign where the likes of Michael Arrington, Om Malik and others seemingly lend their support to the “people-ready” catchphrase.

I sent e-mails both to Arrington and Malik and–surprise, surprise–heard nothing back. (Obviously, they are not yet sufficiently “Coop-ready.”) Microsoft was still checking for me into whether money exchanged hands. But even if not a single shekel exchanged hands, I must wonder about the absence of common sense. Why would ostensibly independent voices come across as Microsoft shills? If they were hoping for a free dinner with Bill Gates, there are smarter ways to go about it.

Here’s more from the marketing person who is responsible for this scam.

“The main thing I’m pissed off about right now is that they pulled all the ads, which mean we’re taking a revenue hit. We’re running a business here, and have payroll to make. We run ads to make that payroll. Those ads have now been pulled.”

Microsoft once again corrupts confidence in the blogsphere. They turn ‘citizen journalists’ to marketing people in disguise.

Microsoft uses proxies to hire its shills, but you can always follow the money (if you try hard enough) and find Microsoft.

The sad fact is that Microsoft needn’t even hire many shills when it can keep its own employees very busy.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates emphasized the importance of blogging in a May 2004 speech during the company’s annual CEO summit. But Gates doesn’t blog; same for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

[...]

Many Microsoft employees do blog, reportedly more than 4,000 of them. The number of employee bloggers was comparatively quite small, about 300, before the launch of Channel 9 and the success of Scoble’s blog.

Last year could be called year of the blog at Microsoft. Employee blogrolls swelled and Microsoft bloggers disseminated lots of vital information about the company. Increasingly, employee bloggers are becoming Microsoft’s primary evangelists. They are certainly a group over which the company can exact some control and which can spin information to Microsoft’s advantage.

I’ve personally seen cases where Microsoft employees in disguise attacked the authors of open source blogs. It was only IP address lookups that revealed this.

The following two reports lack confirmation, but they are noteworthy nonetheless.

1. Example from October 2007:

Unleash the Astro-Turfers!

Already on Apple oriented developer mailing lists one can see the astro-turfing has begun. A really amateurish attempt by ‘Mac Developer’ (no one uses a stupid handle like that) turned up today.

2. Just shortly beforehand:

It’s unfortunate that paid blogging is becoming all the more prevalent in communities like 1UP. And it’s not just the blogs or reviews, it’s also the message boards. Microsoft, for instance, also has a person (or people?) who is paid to post on some of the popular gaming boards (and no, Jeff Bell wasn’t part of that plan). But it’s not just Microsoft — I know of a few other game publishers who pay users to blog. They don’t necessarily require bloggers to say positive things about their products, but it’s certainly implied with the paychecks.

What bums me out about all this viral stuff is that, to some extent, you don’t know who to trust anymore. There was a time when, if you no longer believed in what the professional editors where saying, you could at least count on your fellow gamers for honest opinions. Not anymore. In a sense, perhaps that helps elevate the importance of the professional word once again, which I suppose is a good thing for us. But I’m still not happy about it.

What do you think about this one?

Microsoft regularly flies customers and industry experts to its campus in Washington to listen to the feedback given by those people.The company invites dozens of key customers and partners to the event,where they spend brainstorming as a group.But as of late, Microsoft has changed it’s strategy and the company is making extensive use of blogs to get direct customer feedback.

Within a year,more than 1000 Microsoft employee blogs featured developers and product managers talking directly to customers every day, instead of once a year.Microsoft employees read dozens of blogs every day to see how customers react to Microsoft products and services. In fact,Microsoft employees have taken a bigger leap and even contribute to other’s blogs in the expanding space of Blogosphere.

How about this one?

Microsoft has announced the “Microsoft BlogStars” contest, to Hunts for Developer Bloggers in India. After feeling the power and increase of the Bloggers community in India, Microsoft tries to trap and hunt Bloggers in India to buildup the blogging community, for writing blog posts supporting towards Microsoft Technologies.

Remember the Ferrari laptops fiasco?

A former Microsoft manager said it was a case of bribing bloggers.

This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I’m upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers. Don’t even get me started about PayPerPost.

Another article: Microsoft’s Laptop Giveaway Becoming PR Disaster?

This thing is starting to feel like a PR disaster. Bloggers are starting to smell blood and this thing very well may begin to turn into yet another episode of bloggers gone wild.

And another one from eWeek: Bribing Bloggers

It’s a bribe. Period. You say nice things about us, you get nice things from us. Heck, just say neutral things about us-we’ll give you a killer new laptop and we know that you’ll be inclined to say better things about us.

You must have gotten the impression that Microsoft had learned its lesson and stopped that sort of laptop giveaway. But no! 4 months later I found evidence that Microsoft carried on with this malpractice.

Microsoft Belgium rang me yesterday (I don?t think they realised it was a public holiday here!).

[...]

The phone call yesterday was to confirm my address – the laptop (a Sony Vaio – dunno which model or spec yet) is en route with Vista Ultimate and Office Ultimate pre-installed.

Let’s not get started with the issue of brainwashing and pressuring journalists because that could make another very extensive post. To give just a couple of examples, consider these:

1. The Inquirer, renowned for its anti-Microsoft biases, got invited for some Microsoft ‘treatment’.

The Vole (Microsoft) supposedly invited The INQ over for tea because we are notorious “Microsoft doubters” – and we were accompanied by other supposed Vole doubters such as the folk from lifehacker and a very nice man from Slashdot, as well as some Microsoft MvPs.

As you can see, the Inquirer was not alone. There was a party, and there was plenty of Kool-Aid for everyone!

2. Linux.com (yes, a Linux site) is no exception.

I spent December seventh, eighth, and ninth in Seattle as Microsoft’s guest. Microsoft flew me there from Florida at its expense, put me up in a nice hotel, provided decent food, and comped me and four other invitees to this “special conference” with presentations about the marvels of Vista and other recent or upcoming Microsoft products. They didn’t quite play the old Beatles song “Love Me Do” in the background, but it was the event’s unstated theme.

What do you reckon? Would that journalist think twice about criticising Microsoft after a jolly good time and freebies from Microsoft?

Going further into the past, there are far more examples, but in order to keep the length of this post moderate, we’ll provide just two examples:

1. The Los Angeles Times ‘dared’ to expose the sort of manipulation we are still seeing today (even amidst the ISO/OOXML fiasco).

In 2001, the Los Angeles Times accused Microsoft of astroturfing when hundreds of similar letters were sent to newspapers voicing disagreement with the United States Department of Justice and its antitrust suit against Microsoft. The letters, prepared by Americans for Technology Leadership, had in some cases been mailed from deceased citizens or nonexistent addresses.

Notice the fact that once again, as usual, Microsoft uses one of its proxies to do the ‘dirty work’. One need only follow the money though.

2. Going further into the past, remember OS/2?

Some years back, Microsoft practiced a lot of dirty tricks using online mavens to go into forums and create Web sites extolling the virtues of Windows over OS/2. They were dubbed the Microsoft Munchkins, and it was obvious who they were and what they were up to. But their numbers and energy (and they way they joined forces with nonaligned dummies who liked to pile on) proved too much for IBM marketers, and Windows won the operating-system war through fifth-column tactics

Should honest guys finish last?

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

5 Comments

  1. John Vincent said,

    November 23, 2007 at 5:57 am

    Gravatar

    Hmm. Yes. ugly.

    At least the Mircosoft-doc doesn’t read too bad: “It is our blah that those choosing blah are presented with overwhelming evidence and reasoned argument in favor of our standards… We do this by understanding the barriers that might otherwise prevent the developer from adopting our standards and removing them.”

    It’s morally wrong to have fake blogs; promotion of products in newsgroups etc. but it is what every company does (including mine) these days. It’s unfortunate but if the competition plays on that field, you gotta play, too.

    In Linux also, we also have
    Evangelism

    ;-)

  2. Tercume said,

    November 23, 2007 at 6:29 am

    Gravatar

    Nice article!

  3. Jim Powers said,

    November 23, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Gravatar

    > In Linux also, we also have Evangelism

    Yes, no doubt. It may be possible that RedHat, Novell, etc. might be out there astroturfing (if this is what you are implying) as well, but somehow I don’t think that such a practice would go all that far. Everyone commits the “sin” of evangelizing “their side”, but Microsoft is (and has always been) engaging in activities far away from mere evangelism.

    Look, I use Linux at home exclusively, my whole family does, even the kids, I have been able to “make the case” for Linux at work and now we have begun the transition. This “argument” was won on technical merits: there is simply no compelling reason to stick with MS for web sites. Linux and the FLOSS community as well as access to the SOURCE code provides more benefits than the alternatives. My arguments have so far proven correct. The “argument” was won on technical merit. Generally speaking FLOSS wins easily when the technical arguments can be made. Does FLOSS have problems? Sure. The difference that that there are a million ways to address these problems. Some of the more popular solutions become common, but that does not mean that niche solutions cease to exist. For instance I use fluxbox on my desktop, but the rest of my family use Gnome (sorry Roy, perhaps KDE 4.0 will change that). Gnome and KDE get most of the lime-light, but there are still tools out there for serious quacks like myself. An interesting aspect about “evangelizing” in the FLOSS universe is this: a bumper-crop of choice: including going your own way. Because of this the technical merits of various and sundry approaches need to come to the forefront, not the relationship with some company in some part of the world.

    In short Linux (especially on the desktop) still has problems, but consider the fact that in Linux we have several competitive desktop environments DESPITE the fact the Microsoft has done everything in their power to have hardware vendors NOT help FLOSS development at every turn. Consider where we would be if such unethical/illegal practice was not in place: there simply would be no MS monopoly. We would all have numerous, interoperable solutions available from many vendors all in constant, productive development. Also, the barrier to entry for new competition would be very small, helping to maximize investment. Furthermore, there would be no true notion of obsolescence: organizations would be able to maintain systems indefinitely because there would always be someone available to pay to support an arbitrary hardware build-out.

    The world has so much to gain by the dismantlement of MS and the destructive legal, social, and economic “ecosystem” it has created. The collective benefit to society once talented individuals can be unshackled from the leg of the dinner table where today they are thrown scraps is astounding. The economic and creative upside is far greater than the stultifying vision offered by the likes of Microsoft and Apple.

  4. Penguin Pete said,

    August 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Gravatar

    > “I’ve personally seen cases where Microsoft employees in disguise attacked the authors of open source blogs. It was only IP address lookups that revealed this.”

    Hey, can you share with us how to do this? What IP address range means “confirmed asstroturfer”? I’d love to catch one more often.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    August 2, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Gravatar

    Here is a very recent example. Watch the second reference to Open Sources.

What Else is New


  1. The Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation Has Just Buried an Innocent Judge That Battistelli Does Not Like

    An innocent judge (never proven guilty of anything, only publicly defamed with help from Team Battistelli and dubious 'intelligence' gathering) is one of the forgotten casualties of the latest meeting of the Administrative Council (AC), which has become growingly complicit rather than a mere bystander at a 'crime' scene



  2. Nepotism at the European Patent Office and Suspicious Absence of Tenders for Big Projects

    Carte blanche is a French term which now perfectly describes the symptoms encountered in the European Patent Office, more so once led by a lot of French people (Battistelli and his friends)



  3. “Terror” Patent Office Bemoans Terror, Spreads Lies

    Response to some of the latest utterances from the European Patent Office, where patently untruthful claims have rapidly become the norm



  4. China Seems to be Using Patents to Push Foreign Companies Out of China, in the Same Way It Infamously Uses Censorship

    Chinese patent policies are harming competition from abroad, e.g. Japan and the US, and US patent policy is being shaped by its higher courts, albeit not yet effectively combating the element that's destroying productive companies (besieged by patent trolls)



  5. 22,000 Blog Posts

    A special number is reached again, marking another milestone for the site



  6. The EPO is Lying to Its Own Staff About ILO and Endless (Over 2 Years) EPO Mistrials

    The creative writing skills of some spinners who work for Battistelli would have staff believe that all is fine and dandy at the EPO and ILO is dealing effectively with staff complaints about the EPO (even if several years too late)



  7. EPO’s Georg Weber Continues Horrifying Trend of EPO Promoting Software Patents in Defiance of Directive, EPC, and Common Sense

    The EPO's promotion of software patents, even out in the open, is an insult to the notion that the EPO is adhering to or is bound by the rules upon which it maintains its conditional monopoly



  8. Protectionism v Sharing: How the US Supreme Court Decides Patent Cases

    As the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) starts delivering some decisions we take stock of what's to come regarding patents



  9. Links 22/3/2017: GNOME 3.24, Wine-Staging 2.4 Released

    Links for the day



  10. The Battistelli Regime, With Its Endless Scandals, Threatens to Crash the Unitary Patent (UPC), Stakeholders Concerned

    The disdain and the growing impatience have become a huge liability not just to Battistelli but to the European Patent Office (EPO) as a whole



  11. The Photos the EPO Absolutely Doesn't Want the Public to See: Battistelli is Building a Palace Using Stakeholders' Money

    The Office is scrambling to hide evidence of its out-of-control spendings, which will leave the EPO out of money when the backlog is eliminated by many erroneous grants (or rejections)



  12. In the US Patent System, Evolved Tricks for Bypassing Invalidations of Software Patents and Getting Them Granted by the USPTO

    A roundup of news about patents in the US and how the patent microcosm attempts to patent software in spite of Alice (high-impact SCOTUS decision from 2014)



  13. “Then They Came For Me—And There Was No One Left To Speak For Me.”

    The decreasing number of people who cover EPO scandals (partly due to fear, or Battistelli's notorious "reign of terror") and a cause for hope, as well as a call for help



  14. As Expected, the Patent Microcosm is Already Interfering, Lobbying and Influencing Supreme Court Justices

    The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is preparing to deliver some important decisions on cases with broad ramifications, e.g. for patent scope, and those who make money from patent feuds are attempting to alter the outcome (which would likely restrict patent scope even further, based on these Justices' track record)



  15. Intellectual Ventures -- Like Microsoft (Which It Came From) -- Spreads Patents to Manifest a Lot of Lawsuits

    That worrisome strategy which is passage of patents to active (legally-aggressive) trolls seems to be a commonality, seen across both Microsoft and its biggest ally among trolls, which Microsoft and Bill Gates helped create and still fund



  16. What the Patent Microcosm is Saying About the EPO and the UPC

    Response to 3 law firms and today's output from them, which serves to inform or misinform the European public at times of Big Lies and fog of (patent) war, revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric patent warfare and lobbying



  17. Tough Day for the EPO's Media/Press/PR Team, Trying 'Damage Control' After Important Techrights Publications

    In an effort to save face and regain a sense of legitimacy the EPO publishes various things belatedly, and only after Techrights made these things publicly known and widely discussed



  18. Links 21/3/2017: PyPy Releases, Radeon RX Vega, Eileen Evans at Linux Foundation

    Links for the day



  19. In IAM, Asian Courts That Deliver Justice Are “Unfriendly” and Asian Patent Trolls Are Desirable

    Rebuttal or response to the latest pieces from IAM, which keeps promoting a culture of litigation rather than sharing, collaboration, negotiation, and open innovation



  20. At EPO “I Have the Feeling That Lowering Quality is Part of a Concerted Plan.”

    Growing concern about patent quality at the EPO -- a subject which causes managers to get rather nervous -- is now an issue at the forefront



  21. EPO Reduces the World to Just Seven Nations to Bolster an Illusion of Growing 'Demand' for European Patents

    The unscientific -- if not antiscientific -- attitude of the European Patent Office (EPO) continues to show with the arrival of yet more misleading 'infographics' (disinfographics would be a more suitable term)



  22. Letter to Angela Merkel Expresses Concerns About Impact of EPO Scandals on Germany and Its Image

    Dr. Angela Merkel, arguably the most powerful woman in the world, is being warned about the consequences of Germany ignoring (and hence facilitating) the abuses of Benoît Battistelli



  23. EPO Caricature: Low Patent Quality Not an Achievement

    A new cartoon about the legacy of Battistelli, which ruins both inventors and staff (examination) while handing money to abusers



  24. Are Lithuania and Latvia the Latest Additions to the List of Benoît Battistelli's Vassal States?

    Benoît Battistelli's 'back room' deals came at an interesting, strategic time and the Office uncharacteristically kept quiet about these



  25. Links 20/3/2017: Linux 4.11 RC3, OpenSSH 7.5 Released

    Links for the day



  26. Supposedly 'Pampered' Prisoners Are Still Prisoners of the EPO

    Response to those gross and familiar attempts to portray patent examiners, not politicians who trample all over them, as the cause of all the problems at the EPO



  27. Insulting Reversal of Narratives at the EPO: Team Battistelli as the Victim

    At times of great oppression against staff, in clear defiance of the law in fact, journalists are being asked (or expected) to view the oppressor as the victim, even when this oppressor drives people to suicide



  28. Battistelli's EPO Copies China -- Not the US -- When it Comes to Patenting Software and Expanding Patent Scope

    A detailed explanation of some of the latest reports from China and the US, serving to show that one opens up to software patents whereas the other shuts the door on them (and guess whose lead the EPO is taking)



  29. What IAM Says About AST, RPX, Ericsson, and IBM

    IAM, the trolls' mouthpiece (also the EPO's mouthpiece, but that's another story), provides updates on trolls and troll-like entities, but further commentary is needed to clarify and counterbalance the promotional language



  30. Apple and Microsoft, Two Patent Aggressors That Habitually Attack GNU/Linux Distributors, Get Sued by a Patent Troll, Soverain IP

    Putting in perspective the latest high-profile (in the press at least) lawsuits filed by a notorious troll, which this time around chose as its targets two patent aggressors that deserve no sympathy because of their own actions


CoPilotCo

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

CoPilotCo

Recent Posts