Microsoft grapples with its own privacy after rampant leaks from company meeting

meeting

Via @kemalettin on Twitter.

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.

ballmer5But 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.

  • Guest

    What a shameful performance by Microsofties, selling their company’s secrets to the highest bidder and thumbing their noses at pleas for confidentiality.

    If I were a Microsofter, I’d invite M3 Sweatt to a “special promotion event,” switch on the company-wide PA system, and fire him whilst the whole company listened. That’d make for some good Twittering, wouldn’t it? #morons

    • judge not

      Learn to read. M3 Sweatt was not the one leaking secrets. Hope you never have jury duty.

  • Guest

    This type of behavior is a reflection of the lack of mutual trust between the company and its employees, which, in Microsoft’s case, is a very sad state of affairs. MS used to have some of the most loyal, trustworthy, passionate employees in the universe. The policies implemented by SteveB and his senior leaders like Kevin Turner and Lisa Brummel over the last 11 years, have eroded the morale and, consequently, the loyalty and trust of their employees to the point where this type of behavior is now common. Sad, just sad.

    • Guest

      There’s no excuse or justification for leaking company confidential information. Nada. Zero. And no employee worth keeping would do it, regardless of their concerns about the review/performance process.

      And while you’re criticizing SteveB’s employee policies, keep in mind he’s the same guy who arranged extra options for them when the stock first tanked, gave salary increases across the board, organized the buyback for underwater options, made the move to no-risk grants from 100%-risk options, hired like crazy and repeatedly resisted analyst and shareholder calls to shut down or spin off entire divisions like Xbox and Bing. I’m a huge Ballmer critic, but it seems to me that the biggest problem with MS’s employee base today isn’t the performance policies, which no doubt could be improved, but rather a sense of entitlement that isn’t justified by their collective performance.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    Part of it is cultural. Compared to a company like Apple, Microsoft has historically been a fairly open company and encouraged outside engagement and communication. That’s always been one of the things that have made them popular in the develop community for instance.

    And so that sometimes combines with people’s passion and enthusiasm to lead them to share things they shouldn’t, not because they’re trying to tank the company but because they think it’s so cool that they want to share it. I would suspect that’s what was behind the leak of the Ballmer video.

    Having had to deal with leaks from within Microsoft many times myself, I can attest that sometimes it’s good intentions gone wrong in a company that doesn’t instill a strong sense of what to keep secret.

    • Mark

      Give me a break. This was exceedingly poor judgment by employees. Period. It has nothing to do with MS’s openness or failure to explicitly explain what is confidential, which incidentally as a former employee I reject categorically.

  • Harkonnen

    I also think that this being the last company meeting of Steve Ballmer made it more obvious that this would be leaked.

  • H_Burns

    If the edited version released by MSFT made you cringe, then imagine how uncomfortable the real thing would have felt.

    • Tired of Idiots

      I guess if you’ve never had passion for anything yourself, then seeing it in others would be cringe-worthy. But most can probably identify with someone whose put his entire hear and soul into something for three decades, and how leaving that is bittersweet.

      • H_Burns

        In this video I see a man whose passion is overshadowed by his hubris. Cringe.