In the age of Twitter and smartphones, can something that happens in front of tens of thousands of employees be kept secret from the rest of the world?
For Microsoft last week, the answer was no. The company’s “internal” meeting at KeyArena in Seattle was a gold mine for reporters and a headache for Microsoft’s communications team — generating unintended news about a new cloud gaming service, a unified Windows app store, and early details about the next version of Office, among other leaks.
But the topper was the striking video of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s emotional farewell, obtained and published by The Verge. According to a memo making the rounds inside the company over the weekend, it turns out that Microsoft begrudgingly gave that video to the site, even though the company would have preferred to keep it under wraps.
The backstory: The Verge initially obtained a different video of Ballmer’s full session at the meeting, shot by one of the attendees. The site refrained from publishing that version, and instead received the video of the official feed of the final minutes of Ballmer’s talk. Watch the published video closely and you’ll notice that it was edited by the company.
Of course, as a reporter, I’ve been on the receiving end of leaks from the company meeting, including the time in 2009 when Ballmer made news by pretending to stomp on an employee’s iPhone. And yes, there’s certainly some irony in how I learned the backstory of the Verge publishing Ballmer’s farewell video this weekend.
There are some natural questions here about Microsoft’s ability to keep secrets as a company. After all, Amazon.com has held its employee meeting at the same Seattle arena, without the rampant leaks.
But this is more interesting to me as a new twist on the broader discussion about privacy in the Internet age. Personal privacy is quickly vanishing, and it looks like corporate privacy is headed in the same direction.
Whether you lament or celebrate that fact depends mostly on where you sit.
Secrets from the Microsoft Company Meeting… Not ;) pic.twitter.com/UqDpywXp75
— M3 Sweatt (@m3sweatt) September 26, 2013