The Difference Between Right and Wrong

So I just received a very peculiar email from Microsoft. I’ve been using Office 360 for a several months. Before that, I’ve avoided Microsoft products because they seem to require almost weekly updates, and because there are way too many buttons on the company’s bloated office software. So today, as if Tinkerbelle dropped by, I received the message below.

Microsoft’s strategy suggests they plan to take Google’s “don’t be evil” pledge seriously. Microsoft is not going to use my personal information. Microsoft is not going to read my emails, not going to advertise to me based upon my personal communications.

And that got me to thinking. When did I tell Microsoft it was okay to do any of that? In a user agreement that was too complicated, for any reasonable person to understand. And when did I inadvertently provide any software company with permission to invade any reasonable notion of my personal privacy? And where the hell is the protection that I should reasonably from the Federal Trade Commission, every state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, and the Federal and States’ Attorneys General?

Gosh, we are looking at the world upside down. Consumers should be secure in the knowledge that invasion of privacy, and exploitation of our personal communication, is simply against the law. (And that rules of search and seizure reasonably apply and protect us from any unauthorized use.)

I want to believe that the senior executives at Microsoft enjoyed a wonderful offsite and realized that their competitive advantage, their win-back for the masses, is to be completely reasonable. That this, the hired a facilitator and filled a whiteboard, then unanimously endorsed the obvious decision: Microsoft’s senior management decided that the company should not take what ought not be theirs, to apologize for crappy behavior of the past, and to respect their customers and their privacy.

It would be so nice if every software company, social networking company, and organization that believes that aggressive exploitation is the key to business success would, in two simple words, stop it.

Stop it today, before the earth spins another orbit. Just stop it. Figure out how to do business in a way that will make your grandchildren proud, and will allow you to look your dog in the eyes and say, honestly and without compunction, “I did the right thing today.” Executives, please don’t wait until you have a new plan in place. Just stop doing the wrong thing, and shift gears as soon as your business is ready to do so. But stop doing the wrong thing today. Or, if you need more time, I’m okay if you get it done “on or before July 31, 2014.” Which happens to be the date that Microsoft’s new user agreement takes effect. Some highlights:

 Privacy: As part of our ongoing commitment to respecting your privacy, we won’t use your documents, photos or other personal files or what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail to target advertising to you.

Transparency: We updated our Code of Conduct so you can better understand the types of behaviors that could affect your account, and added language that parents are responsible for minor children’s use of Microsoft account and services, including purchases.

Simplicity: We tailor our privacy statements for each of our products to help make it easier for you to find the information that is important to you

Gestures in a Virtual World

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Two interesting articles, each overlapping the other, both worth reading because they may change your thinking about the ways we interact with computers and the virtual world.

The first article, from the BBC, is about surgeons in a London hospital who are learning to use voice commands and hand gestures to control medical instruments. The process, based upon Microsoft’s Kinect technology (more on this in the second article), allows greater precision and higher efficiency while eliminating some sterilization issues. For certain procedures, this “touch-less” approach to medicine is likely to become the norm within the next 10 years or so.

The second article, from the NY Times, is about Microsoft’s shift from “does not condone the modification of its products” and would “work closely with law enforcement . . . to keep Kinect tamper-resistant…” to an understanding that Kinect was going to become something greater than a videogame input device, and that Microsoft might not control the ways in which Kinect would be used in the marketplace. Eventually, Microsoft decided to release a non-game version of Kinect, still bound by a range of rules that are hopelessly out of step with today’s open-everything tech development world. The story is longish, and worth reading because, well, the article’s author said it so well:

The idea of a loosely knit band of outsider creative coders forcing a massive company to rethink a crucial new product is appealing.

I suspect both articles are the result of Microsoft’s publicity machine, both supporting an expanded view of Kinect specifically and Microsoft generally. No matter. Both are interesting, and the trend is worth a few minutes of your time. As the heat in this area increases, the keyboard, mouse, and other 20th century input devices become less likely to survive, at least in their present conception.

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