Microsoft’s fight against spam signals new attitude

Microsoft’s campaign to tackle spam deserves praise, not automatic dismissal from cynical observers, writes US commentator Paul Holmes

Bill Gates has 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 last week. ‘Like almost everyone who uses email,’ he wrote, ‘I receive a ton of spam. 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.’

The op-ed was part of a broader campaign by Microsoft to tackle spam, a campaign the company kicked off by filing 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 co-operation with government and industry leaders.

Who knew that the word co-operation was even in Microsoft’s vocabulary?

But the company’s new-found commitment to what it calls ‘trustworthy computing’ extends beyond spam. A few days later, AP reported that the company was hiring a new chief privacy strategist. ‘I expect to see [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.

But some observers have viewed the software giant’s strategy with rather cynical eyes.

One of these, the website Corporate Babble, suspects the company of ‘a new and very specific spin strategy… every good PRO knows the best way to stop being tagged as the bad guy is to pick a fight with an even badder guy.’

One is certainly more accustomed to seeing Micro-soft wearing a black hat than a white one, but, rather than questioning motives, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that the company appears to have discovered the value of acting on issues that concern its customers.

If Microsoft is acting out of self-interest, it is at least enlightened self-interest.

It is encouraging that a company once disdainful of any activity that didn’t directly increase sales has come to realise that it needs to get involved in broader issues if it is to sustain its leadership.

Paul Holmes is editor of

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