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Microsoft caught 'astroturfing' bloggers again to promote Internet Explorer

Microsoft has offered to pay bloggers to write about Internet Explorer, a slimy practice also known as “astroturfing.”

Well-known former blogger turned venture capitalist Michael Arrington wrote that he was recently approached “to spread the word on the new Internet Explorer browsing experience.”

In what appears to be a form letter—that Arrington noted originated from an agency, and not from Microsoft itself—he was asked to submit a blog post by July 10. “Compensation for this post is available, and there will also be ample opportunities for fun prizes and rewards throughout the duration of this program,” the note added.

In an update Wednesday, Arrington wrote that the program had been suspended. “This action by a vendor is not representative of the way Microsoft works with bloggers or other members of the media,” the statement given to Arrington read. Microsoft representatives gave the identical statement to PCWorld, noting that the program did not originate at Waggener Edstrom, the PR agency it uses with the press.

According to Arrington, however, there is one tipoff: He was asked to use the hashtag “#IEbloggers” to call out the posts. 

The practice of “astroturfing,” or paying individuals to launch “grassroots” campaigns supporting or opposing certain issues, has ties to a number of tech companies who have begun lobbying for or against issues in Washington. Most recently, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft admitted they were behind the European Privacy Association, working to represent industry interests in the debate on data protection in Europe.

Microsoft also hired the chief executive of Burson-Martseller, Mark Penn, to help shape the company’s brand image. It was Penn who orchestrated the company’s “Scroogled” campaign to help raise awareness of Google’s data practices.

In 2002, Microsoft authored its own “switch” campaign to help show how users were switching from Macs back to PCs. The “switcher” was exposed as a fraud.

But in 2001, Microsoft backed Americans for Technology Leadership (ATL) and the Association for Competitive Technology, who engaged in a campaign to call users and attempt to convince them to send prewritten letters under their own name to a collection of state attorneys general. The letters tried to convince the attorneys general to drop their case. According to the LA Times, two of the letters were “authored” by dead people.

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