Microsoft Advertisement Inc.

TLDR: Advertisement is getting more aggressive. A a piece of software, so fundamental to running computers - an operating system is selling user behavior to advertisers.

I remember this logo. Classic sans-serif italics, with an odd artifact between "o" and "s". I remember installing Command & Conquer on Windows 98 (and the bluescreen of death when I was invading the Brotherhood of Nod base). I remember the boot-up sound of Windows XP. The Bliss desktop image is burned into memories of billions of people around the world. I remember neatly organizing desktop icons, I remember defragmentation tasks, I remember Solitaire; I remember the Microsoft that was run by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. It wasn't pretty, but in hindsight, I want old Microsoft back. I would have never said those words in 2002 or even in 2012.

I just installed a new copy of Windows. Through some decrapification, I was feeling pretty good. Skip through the usual Cortana BS to get through the very first boot, fresh, newly inaugurated desktop screen is waiting for a wallpaper change. There is no Windows equivalent of Little Snitch, but Glasswire as good as it gets on Windows for selectively blocking network traffic.

In about 15 mins, I was astounded by the amount of things Microsoft needs to phone home about.

Glasswire firewall blocking Microsoft Telemetry

Here is a full list of Windows 10 tracking, telemetry and ads hosts: https://github.com/StevenBlack/hosts/issues/155

Cortana

I've never met anyone in person, have heard of anyone on the internet or seen any evidence that Cortana is a useful feature of Windows. The push for installing "AI Assistants" by the big-4 is troublesome. I think Siri makes sense for a phone, not so much on a Mac. Amazon is practically giving away their puck-sized Alexa devices for the hope of collecting data. Microsoft is pushing hard to get people to use Cortana; if they don't use, at least have the mic on for Cortana to listen and collect data.

Cortana is so tightly integrated into Windows that it is not possible to completely get rid of it unless the user is OK with risking system stability and disabling Windows search altogether. Here is a recent thread on Microsoft forums as well as StackOverflow: https://superuser.com/questions/949569/can-i-completely-disable-cortana-on-windows-10

Cortana is pre-installed on every single Windows 10 PC (barring LTSC builds). Even Enterprise versions, I kid you not.

Windows 10 Editions, notice Cortana is forced in every single edition from "Home" to "Enterprise". No one asked for it.
Windows 10 Editions, notice Cortana is forced in every single edition from "Home" to "Enterprise". No one asked for it.

The fact of the matter is, Cortana and Microsoft telemetry is an important asset in their advertisement portfolio. After LinkedIn acquisition, Microsoft's focus towards advertisment has moved away from traditional ads on Bing to using rich, highly targetted and accurately tagged datasets from LinkedIn, and horrifyingly, Windows 10.

I predict that Microsoft will offer a basic "Home" version of Windows for free. It will become so lucrative to be able to sell AI-analyzed behaviors such as mouse sensitivity, screentime, amortization of time amongst apps, detailed understanding of user behavior, webcam, speech and voice, tablet usage, location information, system information, etc. I could go on and on. Google has exploited user data in the most lucrative ways, but Microsoft has deeper integration, from Home PCs to SMB to Big corporations - and everything in the middle.

They even proudly announce this on their advertisement page.

How Microsoft sells Advertisments

Microsoft's advertising page - "Unlock Marketing Superpowers with AI", says the headline with a rather remarkably subtle indicators of what this page is about. There is a stock photograph of two men snooping on animals, taking pictures and analyzing them while on a Safari. Of course, advertisement.

Front page - Microsoft Advertisement
Benefits of Microsoft's advertisement network
Benefits of Microsoft's advertisement network

And here is the juicy part that disguises Windows 10 telemetry under the name "Microsoft Search Network".

Microsoft Search Network
Microsoft Search Network

"Microsoft Search Network" definition is vague enough, but notice the exclusivity of "Desktop" advertisement data. Microsoft does not have a mobile platform, however, the fact that they are offering desktop-exclusive data indicates that Bing is a negligible traffic source through Mobile searches.

Microsoft Search Network definition
Microsoft Search Network definition

Microsoft is also aggregating AOL Inc. advertisement data.

I also found this recent article on the advertisement portal illuminating.

At Microsoft Advertising, we take time to gather and study data and  trends to uncover ways to empower marketers everywhere to be more  successful. Below, we explore some ways top marketers are rethinking  customer profiling to deliver highly personalized, customer-centric  experiences.

Yes, I presume that if an ad-tech company has access to your PC, it can figure out where, what, how, which, why for anything and everything. The scope and possibilities of Microsoft's ad-tech is so vast, that they felt the need to publish an ebook: https://advertiseonbing-blob.azureedge.net/blob/bingads/media/insight/ebook/2019/10-october/cdj-chapter-2/cdj_mini_ebook_us.pdf

Microsoft also offers an accessibility guide to marketing:

Microsoft's Accessibility Marketing eBook
Microsoft's Accessibility Marketing eBook

https://advertiseonbing-blob.azureedge.net/blob/bingads/media/library/insight/moder-marketing-is-accessible-marketing/accessibility-marketing.pdf

The whole thing is written like it wants to say nothing:

The more people you reach the more you can serve, so accessibility is good business. Designing with accessibility in mind goes beyond compliance by providing more effective customer interactions, increased productivity and innovation. We are on a journey to understand the full impact that inclusion has on productivity and innovation, but one thing is clear: designing for inclusion means everyone can do and achieve more.

It is difficult to understand what all of this means. Microsoft tries to explain, but it is just a bunch of corporate sounding words strung together.

Microsoft's Accessibility Marketing eBook
Microsoft's Accessibility Marketing eBook

Push vs. Pull Advertisement Models

In general, advertising is becoming more and more aggressive - it is encroaching operating systems now. In an ideal world businesses would organically match with customers through a "pull" rather than "push" model. I've always enjoyed going to trade-shows and exhibitions where the entire advertisement model is "pull". Customers willingly travel to these trade fairs with a purpose to connect with a potential supplier, get a demonstration of their products and meet with them in person. There is a presumed context for both, the supplier and the customer.

Contrast it with an Instagram ad that keeps selling me noise-canceling headphones after I've already purchased one or trying to sell me Geico Insurance while I am watching a lecture on YouTube. Yes, it is more common to bombard the audience with overwhelming number of ads to instill familiarity of the brand name even if the customer is not in the market for purchasing. As consumers become more aware of these tactics, it will be a matter of time when people will seek objective differentiating features of a product or service, as opposed to being tricked. I don't have an academic background in Advertisement, I am sure there are many models of advertisement and the process of pursuing a customer. Or...perhaps I am completely naive here and there is a reason why billions of dollars are being funneled into the ad-tech machine. If I have to be honest - it paints a rather dark picture of human gullibility and expectations.

The "push" advertisement model has created multi-billion dollar enterprises with ever-growing pervasive invasion into people's lives. It is time for new tech companies to come up with respectful, privacy-centric, accurate matching of suppliers to customers. Advertisement today is about shady tactics, store smells, psychological tricks, dark patterns, attention retainment, micro-transactions, deceptive wording, repetitive exposure; what happened to building great products so that the customers advertise it by word of mouth? What happened to companies that focus on quality, customer service and long-term prospects of building rapport with customers for their life-long loyalty? What happened to honesty and integrity in conducting business? These concepts have become so alienated.

Advertisement is only going to get worse with IoT devices, where everything is telemetrized and subject to data collection.


Change Log

Edit 1: Grammar edits
Edit 2: "Safari" -> "a Safari"
Edit 3: Changed grammar, tone of the article and removed unnecessary wording.
Edit 4: I took down the article because I was applying to Microsoft for jobs. This is the risk one has to take. Reposting it. I don't care.

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