Like Clippy, Microsoft Is Watching You

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Photo: Josh Madison/ CC

As a tech company with thousands of employees, hundreds of divisions, and a market cap worth billions of dollars, it should not be surprising that Microsoft has an intense marketing apparatus. How intense, exactly? For one thing, they keep dossiers on tech writers.

This is not your standard Rolodex of reporter names, numbers, email addresses, and respective beats. They are pages-long breakdowns of coverage history that discuss the best way to work reporters for optimal coverage.

Yesterday, Gizmodo accidentally received one of these dossiers, for Fast Company reporter Mark Sullivan. It details his coverage history, his past writing on the subject of bots (Microsoft was pitching him on a piece about Skype bots), and tips on how to frame the subject for optimal coverage.

A few things are worth noting. First, that Microsoft (and presumably other large companies) tracks the reporters who cover them is not unsurprising. As creepy as it might be, these files contain public information — not, for instance, private information gleaned from one’s Microsoft-associated accounts. This is not, in the grand scheme of things, invasive.

Still, the files are extensive, as the Gizmodo item shows and as I’ve heard on separate occasions. A couple of years ago, someone who worked in Microsoft’s marketing department told me something to the effect of “You would not believe how extensive these dossiers are.” That’s always a fun thought to have hanging over your head whenever dealing with Microsoft PR, as I did at a preview event last month. Hahaha cool maybe everything I do and say will end up in a log somewhere.

Second, it’s rare for these things to leak out. The last time it happened was in 2007 with Wired’s Fred Vogelstein. His dossier even included a mock interview for his upcoming interaction with the company. This is a lot of inside-baseball tech-media mumbo jumbo, but the point is that covering these companies is often a never-ending exercise in determining “Am I being used to sell something?” Almost always, the answer is yes.