Visible Technologies Spies on Microsoft Brands Using TruCast/TruPulse, to Control Perception (Updated)
Summary: Another important cogwheel in Microsoft’s perception management operations
AS promised in the previous post, today we continue to explore Microsoft’s “perception management” [1, 2]. In short, perception management is associated with PR techniques of managing brands not just by pushing out marketing messages but also by tracking (spying on) sources of negativity and attempting to shoot/shut them down. We too have had visits from Microsoft “Technology Evangelists” who — without any disclosure — attempted to annul criticism of products like Vista 7 by mocking the message and the messenger [1, 2, 3]. It is no secret that Microsoft is gagging critics; being more or less a PR-reliant company, it’s only to be expected.
“They should really be called “Invisible Technologies” for being so obscure, even secretive.”Today we take a look at a firm called “Visible Technologies”. Its front page shows Microsoft as a client. “Microsoft, GM, Hormel, Panasonic are their top customers,” writes Ryan. They even earned a Gartner award, which may only tie them to the same Microsoft interests [1, 2, 3, 4] if anything at all. But it goes deeper than this.
“I’ve got some kind of Microsoft PR firm following me now,” writes Ryan. “Trucast” or “TruPulse” is perhaps the culprit. “They’re monitoring my blog,” he argues. “I got a referral hit from them to my post about Windows Media Center DRMing cable television. I followed it back to some kind of login page, but I got to looking around the site and it says they do “brand management”, customers include Microsoft, and their tag is “They’re talking about you, listen, measure, and participate”; not sure I like the sound of this. [...] My guess is that their web crawler probably flagged that post and a human was checking up on it. http://pulse.trucast.net/Listen/54 was the referral link. [It] doesn’t even mention the company that owns it. I had to google “TruPulse” to be led back to Visible Technologies.” They should really be called “Invisible Technologies” for being so obscure, even secretive.
According to Visible Technologies, “TruCast channels the right conversations to the right subject matter experts who can quickly and easily participate in the dialogue.”
It seems like yet another Microsoft-hired PR agency that has spying methodologies as “products”. One of Waggener Edstrom’s (Microsoft’s PR Department) latest such products is a tool for spying on people in Twitter. Yes, they are monitoring blogs and Twits and they constantly develop software to do the spying more effectively. Based on their own promotional videos, they scan the Web, then check the profiles/messages of people to see if they can be manipulated. They also keep dossiers on people. As Neighborlee put it, “they can fire as many watchdogs as they wish…it’s about staying power at the end of the day.”
If one takes a closer look at the Web site of Visible Technologies, it soon emerges that there are more Microsoft connections. According to the site, “Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, Bill Baker Joins Visible Technologies as CTO.” Yes, that’s him. The reference page says that “Bill spent twelve years at Microsoft, where he directed the company’s SQL Server Business Intelligence Unit and was general manager of Business Intelligence applications for the Microsoft Office Business Platform.”
Got it? They mine data, which can be useful for tracking blogs and doing intelligence. As Microsoft’s evangelism instructionals
[PDF] put it: “Gathering intelligence on enemy activities is critical to the success of the Slog.”
“She used to work as an independent consultant at Microsoft, but the Visible Technologies Web site does not say this.”Ryan argues that it “looks like some sockpuppet organization, run by proxy for Microsoft.” This argument seems like a big stretch, but then again, ACT also disguises itself using names of other companies.
Looking at the company’s board, Ryan argues that “most of them look like they were snapped up from small companies I’ve never heard of in Washington state.” See Rowland Hanson, for example. “Rowland is CEO of The HMC Company and Chairman of CRH & Associates. Prior to consulting, he was Vice President of Corporate Communications at Microsoft, where he created and executed the company’s highly acclaimed branding strategy which included the market introduction of Microsoft’s most popular product—a graphical interface that he named “Windows.””
“One of them is from Square Enix and also worked for the Chinese government,” remarks Ryan. That would be Michelle Goldberg, who is also with the Microsoft-loaded Ignition Partners. She used to work as an independent consultant at Microsoft, but the Visible Technologies Web site does not say this. There are other examples. Ryan brings up “David J. Moore, founder of 24/7 real Media, an advertising stat tracker. [...] Lance Maerov, some kind of dotcom bubble millionaire that blew a bunch of venture capital and ran off with the money. These are some really bad people.”
For those who wish to see if Visible Technologies and its tracker (TruCast) drops in for a visit, pulse.trucast.net is 126.96.36.199, trucast.net is 188.8.131.52, and visibletechnologies.com is 184.108.40.206. “They have some low latency servers too. Looks like they’re set up to survive some hate traffic. They’re registered with GoDaddy, netblock owner is Qwest,” adds Ryan. “They’re using Windows Server 2008 R2. That’s not even released yet, except on MSDN.”
Going a little too closely (although it’s public knowledge), Ryan persists. “[Address is] Visible Technologies, 401 2nd Avenue S, Suite 101, Seattle, 98104, United States [...] looks like they have a suite in some leased out office building [...] Google Street View is a little off, but it has a picture of the block they’re on [...] looks like an older stone building, the entrance says “Court in the Square”. Down the street (to the south) there’s a building that says “Qwest Field” [...] building is owned by Commercial Properties International. they have office space for rent, and the phone number is 622-1010. There’s a coffee shop in the northeast corner of their building called Zeitgeist Coffee. Well, whatever they have there is just a medium size office building [...] doesn’t look like you’d set up a long term company there [...] looks like it may be the kind of company where they can pack up the office today and not exist tomorrow,” concludes Ryan.
Speaking of perception management, another reader brought to our attention this old gem:
Microsoft Asks Slashdot To Remove Readers’ Posts
Our friends at Microsoft are upset about some of the readers’ comments attached to the story, Kerberos, PACs And Microsoft’s Dirty Tricks (posted on May 2), and would like us to remove those comments from Slashdot. We are not happy about this, to say the least. But instead of reflexively going into rant mode, we are calmly posting the full text of the e-mail we got from Microsoft, along with our initial response to it, so that you can see what news and community Web sites like Slashdot are up against now that the DMCA has become law. We are talking to our lawyers, of course, but we would also like your suggestions on how we should handle this situation.
From: “J.K. Weston”
Subject: Notice of Copyright Infringement under the Digitial Millennium Copyright Act
Date: Wed, 10 May 2000 07:08:49 -0700
X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2651.58)
Andover Advanced Technologies
50 Nagog Park
Acton, MA 01720
Phone: (978) 635-5300
Fax: (978) 635-5326
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Internet Service Provider:
We understand that your website, http://www.slashdot.org, is a popular site for developers to discuss topical issues of interest. In that vein, it has come to our attention that there have been numerous posts of concern related to Microsoft’s copyrighted work entitled “Microsoft Authorization Data Specification v. 1.0 for Microsoft Windows 2000 Operating Systems” and we would appreciate your posting this email to the site to help relay our position to your users.
This notice is being sent under the provisions, and following the guidelines, of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).
Included on http://www.slashdot.org are comments that now appear in your Archives, which include unauthorized reproductions of Microsoft’s copyrighted work entitled “Microsoft Authorization Data Specification v.1.0 for Microsoft Windows 2000 Operating Systems” (hereafter “Specification”). In addition, some comments include links to unauthorized reproductions of the Specification, and some comments contain instructions on how to circumvent the End User License Agreement that is presented as part of the download for accessing the Specification.
Although not intended to be an exhaustive representation, the specific comments below, categorized by corresponding activities, are examples of the misuse of Microsoft’s proprietary information:
Comments Containing A Copy of the Specification:
“by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday, May 02, @03:37PM EST (#197)”
“by BlueUnderwear on Tuesday, May 02, @04:09PM EST (#239)”
“by BlueUnderwear on Tuesday, May 02, @04:15PM EST (#248)”
“by smartin on Tuesday, May 02, @02:20PM EST (#86)”
Comments Containing Links to Internet Sites with Unauthorized Copies of the Specification:
“by ka9dgx on Tuesday May 02, @2:52PM EST (#133)”
Comments Containing Instructions on How to Bypass the End User License Agreement and Extract the Specification:
“by myconid (my S conid@ P toge A the M r.net) on Tuesday May 02, @07:27PM EST (#362)”
“by markb on Tuesday May 02, @05:47PM EST (#321)”
“by Sami (respect.my@authorita-dot-net) on Tuesday May 02, @01:47PM EST (#19)”
“by iCEBalM (icebalm@[NOSPAM]bigfoot.com) on Tuesday May 02, @01:52PM EST (#33)”
“by Jonny Royale (moc.mocten.xi@notners) on Tuesday, May 02, @01:59PM EST (#51)”
“by rcw-work (email@example.com) on Tuesday, May 02, @07:12PM EST (#353)”
Under the provisions of the DMCA, we expect that having been duly notified of this case of blatant copyright violation, Andover will remove the above referenced comments from its servers and forward our complaint to the owner of the referenced comments.
This email notification is a statement made under penalty of perjury that we are the copyright owner of the referenced Specification, that we are acting in good faith, and that the above-referenced comments, as part of http://www.slashdot.org, is posting proprietary material without express written permission.
We request immediate action to remove the cited violations from Andover’s servers, in accordance with the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
This email is not intended to waive any of our other rights and remedies.
Please confirm your receipt of this request by responding to this email. Also, confirm the status of this request either via email or via the following contact mechanisms:
J.K. Weston, Designated Agent
One Microsoft Way, 114/2314
Redmond, WA 98052
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To: J.K. Weston”
From: Robin Miller
Subject: Notice of Copyright Infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Dear J. K. Weston:
Per your request, we are posting your e-mail on this subject on Slashdot.org to help you relay your position to our users.
The balance of your e-mail’s content is somewhat puzzling to us. I’m sure you agree that freedom of speech is at least as important a principle under American law as the freedom to innovate, so I’m sure that you personally, and Microsoft corporately, will understand our hesitation to engage in censorship.
Indeed, after reflecting on the nature of freedom for a little while, you may wish to withdraw your request that we remove readers’ comments from Slashdot. Please realize that if we censor our readers’s posts because they contain ideas Microsoft does not wish to have made public, we may set an unhealthy precedent for other online news outlets and online service providers, including those owned in whole or in part by Microsoft itself.
Meanwhile, in case Microsoft does not decide to have a happy change of heart and support a free and open Internet (which would certainly be in everyone’s best interest), we have sought advice both from our attorneys and from our readers about what, if anything, we should do next.
Please expect a formal reply to your request that we censor our readers’ comments, which we allow them to post on Slashdot as freely as Microsoft allows user-generated content to be sent through Hotmail and through chat facilities and discussion groups hosted on MSN.com servers, as soon as we receive wise counsel not only from our attorneys, but also from concerned members of the Slashdot community and other interested parties.
- Robin “roblimo” Miller
Remember how Microsoft successfully removed a negative review of Microsoft Surface a few months ago. Many such incidents go unnoticed or unannounced. It makes Microsoft happy. █
“Mind Control: To control mental output you have to control mental input. Take control of the channels by which developers receive information, then they can only think about the things you tell them. Thus, you control mindshare!”
–Microsoft, internal document
Update: Check out this article from the Seattle Times.
Clients pick an “author” or opt for anonymity. Visible [Technologies] also has a virtual army — thousands of personas registered with online forums.
So, if some blogger criticises a Microsoft product, then Microsoft — via Visible Technologies — can dispatch an army of shills to counter this blogger.
As one blogger put it, “Visible Technologies is Playing with Fire”.
Sean reminded me about a local Seattle company called Visible Technologies that enables organizations to listen and respond to the commentary that is occurring across blogs, social networks and communities.
This is a fast growing niche and one that is fun to watch. Organizations of all types are growing more and more curious about what is being said about them online – and struggling to respond in the appropriate way. While I have confidence that Visible will do well as a company, I think they are playing with fire – the destructive nature of which I hope their clients fully understand.
I just hope that Visible’s clients understand the risks before jumping in too deep. Napalm is dangerous stuff.
Is it not a violation of the law in some parts of the world?