Bonum Certa Men Certa

Buying Consensus Short of Classical Bribery

Briberies too have variants

A reader contacted us last night having been "studying police action on the case of Norway." For those who missed the story about Norway, here is a new article that speaks about it very briefly.

In the run-up to this vote, there have been accounts of Microsoft employees or partners having undue influence on the results of national standards bodies, including Norway. Groklaw has a translation of a Computerworld Norge article, as well as accounts of close votes in Germany and Croatia.

Even before the end of voting on Saturday, participants and technology enthusiasts complained that Microsoft and other Open XML backers have exposed flaws in the ISO process. Ecma chose an accelerated fast-track process, which many view as inappropriate for a weighty technical specification that has what some consider unresolved legal questions.

Earlier stages of the multiyear standards bid reportedly raised questions with European Union antitrust regulators. The Wall Street Journal in February reported that the EU has looked into whether Microsoft misused its desktop software dominance in influencing the first attempt to certify Open XML at ISO in September, a measure which did not pass and precipitated Saturday's follow-on vote.


We will touch on that latter point in the next post, but meanwhile let us consider what allows Microsoft to ignore votes just as it did in Norway. It was a hugely scandalous story.

Further, tells us the reader, "some commenter referred to this post on Slashdot. It mentions Durusau (c/f [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]) and Miguel (c/f [1, 2, 3, 4]).

"Quite concerning. Its quite simple social-financial engineering any unscrupulous big business can play upon us if there is enough at stake."

We've looked at this comment and so should you. Its title is: "How this kind of thing works - Soft Bribery"

I'm gonna repost this comment from another ooxml "sudden flipflop" story - I posted it too late to get any attention then but I still wanted it visible. AC for obvious reasons! Also please bear in mind that all numbers are just for example's sake, but the general point is all too accurate. Also bear in mind I have no "inside" information on Durusau at all, I am just trying to tell you some backstory on how these deals can go down, including one I have specific knowledge of.

-------

I want to tell you Slashdot people something about how this kind of thing works. I don't really know the name for it, but I call it "soft bribery". You might also call it "economic alignment" or whatever. Here's what happens.

A large, rich stakeholder wants a particular outcome - in this case, MS wants OOXML to be ratified. They have some adversaries - respected leaders of the OSS movement or ODF foundation, in this case. Note that there are always certain people with disproportionate voices - these people are really hurting them. How can they turn them around?

They can't outright bribe them. That's illegal and probably wouldn't work anyway - people would feel insulted. So what they need to do is ensure that the "thought leader"'s economic interest is aligned with their own.

We see this happen all the time - a previous strong advocate against something, in this case pro ODF and against OOXML, will suddenly get more concilatory. See Durusau's change of tone for an example. Now I don't know him, but I'm pretty sure here's what happened.

He would be in constant contact with the OOXML team in MS just as a matter of course. One day, though, they'll tell him to expect a call from a VP or higher - big guns. He's excited to be able to reach higher up in the company. Finally, they're taking him seriously. He might be talking to a billionaire!

He'll get the call. "Wow, we're really impressed with your work on this. My team is always telling me what a smart, together guy you are", says the VP or Partner or whatever. "I just wanted to tell you that we really appreciate the work you're doing and we can learn a lot from you. Say, when this is all over, if OOXML finally gets accepted - we'd love to get you in for some interoperability training and consulting, our staff could really use your insight. We pay pretty well, $500 an hour, and we estimate the contract would last for a year fulltime, but we're flexible with your current work - we just need you on call. What do you think?"

There you go. That's it. A year's worth at $500/hr is close enough to a million bucks, the guy's got a mortgage, game over. Of course MS wants it kept quiet or the deal's off - that's their "standard business practise", and the contract has an NDA clause.

Game over. I'm sure this is what happened to Durusau. I'm pretty sure it's what happened to Miguel. Unless you're independently wealthy, not many people can say no to a few hundred thousand in "consulting". Needless to say, he'll never step foot in any Microsoft building. Hell, maybe it's a lot less than a million - it was for someone I know.

I am going to be very vague here - sorry if you think I lose credibility, but I don't want to burn my friend. He was the CEO/CTO (same guy) at a small systems integrator in the educational sector "somewhere in Asia". A largish school deal was in the works, his company advised decision makers in favour of linux. A respected company, had a lot of sway with the local suits, it was looking like going their way. One day he gets a call to the cell phone - wow, one of the big guns!

"We really like the work you're doing. Say, it looks like this deal isn't going to go our way - but if it does, we'll need a partner to help us interoperate with the existing infrastructure - you installed a lot of it, so you're first in line and we'd like to book you in advance just to make sure we can get you. What are your rates? Well, we'd like to make sure we have you for at least six months and we actually pay a set rate in this area of $$$. Is that OK? We'll fax over our proposed contract right now, we're pretty eager to go ahead with this, so just to lock in our booking we'll deposit the first 25% of the contract as soon as you fax it back to us, is that good with you? Refundable if we don't get the deal of course. Commercial in confidence, naturally. Let us know ASAP, and good luck with the deal!"

The contract was over triple what the linux deal would have earned. He has a wife and kids - I'm not going to cast the first stone. They dropped their opposition, recommended the MS deal, and got paid a quarter of a million (equivalent) to do sweet fuck-all for 6 months. My friend feels like a sell-out, but his daughter's now in a better school.

I don't know how to stop this happening, but until it does, MS (or GM, or Exxon, or whoever) will win and win and win. Ask yourself how much your advocacy would sell for. Ask yourself how you'd explain to your wife that you were turning down enough money to send the kids to college because of your preferences for which software to use.

This is how it's done people.


Interestingly, that seems to resemble the Burton Group story [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24]. Remember Peter O’Kelly's consulting work for Microsoft. He did some media brainwash too, resulting in, e.g. [1, 2]. Shortly after their 'study', this firm, which was already close to Microsoft and tied to its technologies, did a lot of Microsoft consulting on the face of it.

That story is rather unique and different from IDC's OOXML/ODF report (not to mention misinformed former 'analysts'), which was practically paid for by Microsoft. It was Microsoft-commissioned, but disclosure was quite the 'unimportant' detail. IDC is deliberately sloppy with disclosure and sometimes willing to hide these altogether.

"Analysts sell out - that’s their business model... But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with."

--Microsoft, internal document



"Consultants: These guys are your best bets as moderators. Get a well-known consultant on your side early, but don’t let him publish anything blatantly pro-Microsoft. Then, get him to propose himself to the conference organizers as a moderator, whenever a panel opportunity comes up."

--Microsoft, internal document

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