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 in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Reddit
  • email

This post is also available in Gemini over at:

gemini://gemini.techrights.org/2007/11/23/astroturfing-microsoft-examples/

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. Half the People in This Letter Are IBM Employees

    IBM seems to be continuing its war on the FSF because IBM wants to own everything (CentOS being ‘canned’ was just part of the plan)



  2. The OSI Song

    The sad demise of OSI, which has become little but a front group of proprietary software companies in pursuit of openwashing services (and outsourcing to proprietary disservices looking to eradicate copyleft)



  3. [Meme] OSI is Doing Just Fine

    So what if OSI is run by someone who raised money from Microsoft (to sell Microsoft a keynote slot in a copyleft event — the thing that Microsoft attacks through GitHub!) while funnelling the OSI's funds to a serial GPL violator?



  4. The OSI's Defunct Elections (Privacy Breach), Conflict of Interest (Nicholson), and Other Lingering Problems

    The above, together with an email from the OSI below, serves to show they’re re-running a bad election and — yet worse! — there appears to be a conflict of interest implicating the OSI’s sole member of staff!



  5. Links 30/7/2021: Audacity 3.0.3 and KD Chart 2.8.0

    Links for the day



  6. Links 29/7/2021: siduction 2021.2 and Xubuntu 21.10 Dev Update

    Links for the day



  7. GitHub is Racism

    Microsoft has the world's most racist code hosting repository; it wasn't like this when Microsoft took over as the racist policies were added to impress Donald Trump, who would later rig a procurement/tendering process to bail out Microsoft (10 billion dollars from the Pentagon, i.e. taxpayers)



  8. [Meme] António Lost His Power Over Patent Examiners

    Team Campinos at the EPO must be rather stressed at the moment; the people who do all the work can go on strike any time (or all the time, until/unless demands are met)



  9. European Patent Office is Going on Strike (or Strikes)

    The staff of the EPO is ready to strike like never before (dissatisfaction and outrage over 8 years of gross injustice, namely Battistelli's breach of fundamental rights, including the right to strike)



  10. Crying “Wolf!” About Systemd is Only Beneficial to IBM and Systemd Developers/Pushers

    Microsoft controls Systemd only to the extent that Systemd is controlled by GitHub, which is in turn controlled by Microsoft; But Systemd has long been on that proprietary platform (its developers don’t truly value software freedom) and this has long been a problem, even before Microsoft hijacked it for coercive power



  11. Links 29/7/2021: Mesa 21.2 RC3, FSF Responds to Microsoft's 'Hey Hi' Attack on Copyleft

    Links for the day



  12. IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, July 28, 2021

    IRC logs for Wednesday, July 28, 2021



  13. [Meme] No Crime Goes Unrewarded at the EPO

    It is more or less undeniable that from a legal and functional perspective the EPO is already defunct and is still perishing under a couple of Mafiosos whose sole interest is cover-up and grifting/plunder (of what’s left of the Office after almost 40 years of goodwill/reputation); the recent G 1/21 fiasco was just icing on the cake and the EU’s insistence on a patently unconstitutional UPC (more legal powers for chronic EPC violators) actually weakens unity in Europe (by discrediting the Union)



  14. [Meme] There's Always a Way (When Financial Results Are Not So Good...)

    Too many US ‘tech’ companies still lie to their investors. They choose financial engineering instead of real engineering.



  15. Links 28/7/2021: OPNsense 21.7 and MX Linux 21 Beta

    Links for the day



  16. The One Reason I Cannot Get 'Google News' (or Google) Completely Out of My Life

    Google has got almost a monopoly on (nearly) real-time news syndication; this is why, for our Daily Links at least, we still rely on Google News to a certain extent



  17. [Meme] When Sociopaths or Psychopaths Run Europe's Second-Largest Institution

    The EPO has a very profound issue because it is run (and ruined) by insecure thugs with inferiority complex, so they form cliques of friends of theirs instead of actually qualified people, in effect creating personality cults that laugh at the law and disregard any obligations to the institutions/staff they were entrusted to manage



  18. Links 28/7/2021: GCC 11.2 Released

    Links for the day



  19. Microsoft 'Loves' Linux So Much That It's Spreading FUD About It All Over the Media for 3 Days in a Row (So Far)

    The stubborn cult at Microsoft likes telling us all — especially officials and decision-makers — a bunch lies like, “we invest [some amount of money] in security” and “security is our goal”, but in reality the money is sunk into hiring (‘buying’) firms with “security” in their name, bribing publishers for mindless PR/platitudes that cast critics of Microsoft insecurity/ies as “fanatics”, “bashers”, “jealous”, “irrational” et cetera; finally, actual money goes into collaborations with the NSA on back doors, i.e. the exact opposite of security. The video above is a follow-up or sequel for something we meme-ified two days ago; we’ve since then included more examples (with editorial comments added to the links) in our News Roundups/Daily Links; Western media follows the same script we saw in Indian Web sites on Sunday and the objective is to paint Linux as “equally insecure” if not less secure than Windows. As already noted on Sunday, in a much longer video, the ‘Linux’ malware (it has nothing to do with Linux itself!) needs user intervention, neglect, or even sabotage to even get on the compromised systems in the first place. One can guess what situation or which incidents Microsoft is ever so eager to distract/deflect from…



  20. [Meme] EPO Asked to Comply With the Law and Correct Behaviour

    EPO staff wants reparations for monumental abuses, but the “Mafia” of Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos will never allow that to happen (we saw the same regarding the unlawful composition of internal courts)



  21. The Unfunny Joke That Microsoft Cares for 'Developer Rights'

    Microsoft propaganda urging software developers to find comfort in a prison of Microsoft (proprietary software monopoly) is a symptom of dying media, or thinly-veiled PR looking for a buck



  22. IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, July 27, 2021

    IRC logs for Tuesday, July 27, 2021



  23. Links 28/7/2021: PulseAudio 15.0 Released, World’s Slowest Raytracer

    Links for the day



  24. Links 27/7/2021: New Godot Engine Beta and a Call for Funding of GIMP

    Links for the day



  25. The EPO's 'News' Page Annotated

    From the above: Greenwashing; Offshoring; ViCo nonsense; Openwashing; Patents=space travel? Faking empathy; Patents as monopoly; ViCo whitewash; Constitutional hogwash; ViCo propaganda; Pinkwashing; Whitewashing GDPR violation; Self-praise; Exploiting pandemic for $; More openwashing; Protectionism; Outsourcing; Occupying the legal system; Grifting and PR; 'Legalising' EPC violations; More surveillance; Patents as sharing?; Patents as mere info? Lobbying by litigation firms; Proprietary/MS



  26. Playing With Fire: The Linux Foundation Associates the Linux Brand With Proprietary Software and GitHub (as Usual)

    Racist IBM is once again using or misusing the “Linux” brand (through the Linux Foundation) to promote racist Watson (which is also proprietary software); the ‘Linux’ Foundation is now revisionism as a service (not just in service of its own mythology, e.g. the operating system starting in 1991 rather than 1983)



  27. Links 27/7/2021: KDE Plasma 5.22.4, Libinput 1.19 to Include Hold Gestures

    Links for the day



  28. Recording Videos With Webcamoid on GNU/Linux

    A lot of people use OBS Studio or similarly high-profile Free software that's mostly designed for live streaming; but this video is a bit different as it takes a look at Webcamoid, which not many people even know about, explaining the current setup that's used to record pretty much every video we make



  29. Getting News and Updates Over Gemini (in General and for Techrights)

    Gemini (gemini://) is very well suited for 'consumption' of news; the hardest part is getting past the simple fact that not every article needs to have pictures in it and syndication (for updates) isn't done through social control media



  30. IRC Proceedings: Monday, July 26, 2021

    IRC logs for Monday, July 26, 2021


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

Recent Posts