Sunday, March 16, 2008

Did Mark Penn Use Microsoft Against Obama?

I’ve been sitting on this for a while because I didn’t want to seem paranoid, but this report of a guest at a Clinton fund raiser wearing an “Osama for Obama” t-shirt, combined with a recent diary by JedReport at Daily Kos regarding Mark Penn, got me thinking again.

The diary included the following description of Penn’s PR firm:
Burson-Marsteller's work is primarily for corporations, ranging from Blackwater to Microsoft to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
I then found an article in the Washington Post, which described Penn's work with Microsoft:
(Penn) heads a giant public relations firm, where he personally hones Microsoft's image in Washington.
This reminded me of an incident about six weeks ago, when I sent an e-mail to a friend, in which I referred to Barack Obama. I noticed that the following dialog box popped up.

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Now why would “Osama” be offered as a suggested spelling for “Obama?” As far as I knew, both are names, but have no other definition. I had no idea what “Bema” is, so I decided to try a few more experiments.

I keyed in a sample e-mail using the word Osama. No message regarding spelling!

I decided to check the computer’s dictionary, so I typed in the word “Obama” and hit “Search all Reference Books.” I got the following message with the same two options: “Osama” and “Bema.”

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OK. I’d confirmed “Obama” had no definition. I typed in the word “Bema” and got the following:

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Thinking perhaps I was unaware of an actual definition, I typed in the word “Osama” and got the following:

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Nothing! So my question remained: Why did Microsoft Outlook give me “Osama” as a suggested spelling for “Obama?”

I decided to do some additional research and found this article describing the problem, which has apparently been fixed by Microsoft. The article includes a statement from the software giant:
Microsoft considers "a number of factors when updating our content, including user feedback, frequency of the words in market area publications, and the first names of public figures whose last names have been added."

"The behavior seen here was not because there was logic in Office or the Office spell-checker specifically targeted towards the word 'Obama' to change it to 'Osama.' Instead, the spell-checker just didn't have 'Obama' in its dictionary, so it tried to provide alternative suggestions based on closest match."
However, at the time I originally noticed this, I happened to enter the names of all of the other Democratic candidates, and Obama was the only one that gave me a spelling suggestion, meaning the database already contained lesser candidates like “Dodd” and “Kucinich.”

It may just have been an oversight, but the article about Mark Penn’s close connection to Microsoft makes me wonder. It wouldn’t have taken much more than to deliberately leave Obama out of the database during the primary season, since Osama was already there and would automatically come up as a spelling suggestion!

Oh, and as for Microsoft's update which added Obama once he became a national presidential candidate, I would point out that, based on a test I performed today, Microsoft still thinks Mike Huckabee is a small bird!

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1 comment:

  1. I got the Osama suggestion on November 4, 2008 and it's still there 2 days later. so much for the correction.