PAUL HOLMES: Microsoft validates its 'leadership' status by actively addressing spam and privacy issues

Bill Gates has already made me feel better about myself. And he has apparently embarked on a PR strategy that could eventually make me feel better about Microsoft - something I would not have considered possible a few months ago.

Bill Gates has already made me feel better about myself. And he has apparently embarked on a PR strategy that could eventually make me feel better about Microsoft - something I would not have considered possible a few months ago.

Gates made me feel better about myself with the first 137 words of an op-ed that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, June 23. "Like almost everyone who uses e-mail," he began, "I receive a ton of spam every day. Much of it offers to help me get out of debt or get rich quick. It would be funny if it weren't so irritating." It's reassuring to know how ill-targeted all that spam is. The op-ed was part of a broader campaign by Microsoft to tackle the spam problem, a push the company kicked off last month, when the software giant filed 15 lawsuits in the US and UK against companies and individuals alleged to have sent billions of spam messages in violation of state and federal laws. The company is also stepping up its efforts to fight spam through technological innovation and cooperation with government and industry leaders. Who knew that "cooperation" was even in Microsoft's vocabulary? But the company's newfound commitment to what it calls "trustworthy computing" extends beyond the spam issue. A few days later, the AP reported that the company was hiring a new chief privacy strategist. "I expect to see going forward [Microsoft] get much more proactive in the way we address privacy issues, not wait for government regulators to say this is a good idea," its chief trustworthy computing strategist told reporters. Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, says Microsoft "appears to be making a very sincere effort to change its corporate culture." But some observers are more cynical. Corporate Babble, a website that turns a cynical eye on corporate pronouncements, suspects the company of "a new and very specific spin strategy. Every good flack knows the best way to stop being tagged as the bad guy is to pick a fight with an even badder guy." Certainly one is more accustomed to seeing Microsoft wearing a black hat than a white one, but rather than questioning its motives, perhaps we should simply celebrate the fact that the company seems to have discovered the value of acting on issues of real concern to its customers. Even if Microsoft is acting out of self-interest, at least it's enlightened self-interest. In fact, it's encouraging that a company once so disdainful of any activity that didn't directly increase the sales of its product has come to realize that it needs to get involved in broader issues if it is to sustain its leadership.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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