Skip to comments.Microsoft pays dear for insults through ignorance
Posted on 08/19/2004 9:07:53 AM PDT by Moose4
Insensitive computer programmers with little knowledge of geography have cost the giant Microsoft company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business and led hapless company employees to be arrested by offended governments.
The problem has damaged the company's reputation and the "trust rating," which is seen as key to keeping the company competitive, has dropped, a senior Microsoft executive revealed yesterday at the International Geographers Conference in Glasgow.
In a frank assessment of the company's problems in trying to be a global player without offending local sensibilities, Tom Edwards, its senior geopolitical strategist, said employees' lack of basic geography was to blame.
The company has now launched geography classes for its staff to avoid further bloomers which have caused embarrassment and cost money on a grand scale. He said that as a geographer himself it was depressing that Americans had a reputation for being particularly unaware of the rest of the world. The annual National Geographic Survey had thrown up the sad fact that only 23 out of 56 young Americans knew the whereabouts of the Pacific Ocean.
"It is therefore no surprise that some of our employees, however bright they may, have only a hazy idea about the rest of the world," he said. "The repercussions on us can be very serious."
As an American company with a global reach, Microsoft had to try and foster trust for reliability of its software and not cause offence.
He said in all cases the mistakes made were simply through ignorance but this was not how they were seen in the countries concerned. They were all seen as deliberate policy and so the offence taken was far greater as a result.
Perhaps the best known, and one of the most expensive, errors was a colour-coded world map showing time zones, which showed the disputed Jammu-Kashmir region as not being in India - an offence under Indian law. The mistake led to the whole of the Windows 95 operating system being banned in the country, losing large sales. For its replacement, Microsoft, Office 97, Microsoft removed the colour coding and sold 100,000 copies in India.
Mr Edwards said the decisions on what to do about disputes arising over Microsoft products was taken entirely on commercial grounds.
For example when employees were arrested in Turkey because Kurdistan had been shown as a separate entity on maps of the country, a decision was taken to remove Kurdistan from all maps.
"Of course we offended Kurds by doing this but we had offended the Turks more and they were a much more important market for our products. It was a hard commercial decision, not political."
One mistake that caused catastrophic offence was a game called Kakuto Chojin, a hand to hand fighting game. The fighting went on with rhythmic chanting in the background which in reviewing the game Mr Edwards noticed appeared to be Arabic.
"I checked with an Arabic speaker in the company who was also a Muslim about what the chant meant and it was from the Koran. He went ballistic. It was an incredible insult to Islam." He asked for the game to be withdrawn but it was issued against his advice in the United States in the belief that it would not be noticed.
Three months later, the Saudi Arabian government made a formal protest. Microsoft withdrew the game worldwide.
His investigations showed the Japanese, who had developed the game for Microsoft, had added the chant to the tape because they liked the sound of it without checking its origins. "They were chastised and corrected," he said.
Mr Edwards said it was better to be honest and open about these mistakes. It was all part of rebuilding that vital trust in the product.
· A game called Age of Empires 2 offended the Saudi Arabian authorities because it showed victorious Muslim armies turning churches into mosques. The game was withdrawn from sale in the kingdom.
· The Korean government, objected because Microsoft software showed the national flag in reverse. The software had to be changed.
· The Spanish version of Windows used the word Hembra - meaning "woman" in Spain - for choosing gender. But in some Central American republics, notably Nicaragua, the word is an insult meaning "bitch". The programme was changed.
· Microsoft employees were questioned by police in China, where it is an offence to refer to Taiwan as country or as the Republic of China. Now Taiwan is not referred to as country and all software worldwide avoids the issue by referring to places as "regions or districts".
· Uruguay is a republic and proud if it but in Microsoft's Outlook in Uruguay, the company offended the government by describing Tuesday April 30 as the queen's birthday.
Oh, nooooo. Can't possibly have a game showing what Islam really wants to do to Christianity.
Heaven forfend that a game actually tell the truth and show what Islamists have in store for all other faiths!
You know we are not supposed to post articles from 'The Onion'.
Hmmmm, Guardian, OOPs never mind.
So I'm just imagining those minarets in front of Hagia Sophia in Istambul?
This is a economic/political landmine no matter what Microsoft does. Borders are disputed in about one third of the world. They're going to offend one country or the other.
I have Encarta Atlas. It shows a dotted outline where borders are disputed. I think that's the best you can hope for.
Reminds me of a story that circulated a few years ago. A group of Arab investors approached the sales manager of an outboard motor company with the idea of setting up a dealer network in Saudi Arabia. The manager dismissed the idea on the grounds that Saudi Arabia is nothing but desert and there would be no market for his products. The deal went to a competitor instead, and resulted in a flourishing new market for outboard motors.
The sales manager who thought outboards were useless in the desert was fired when the story reached the company's board of directors, one of whom had seen a map at some point and knew, therefore, that Saudi Arabia is a peninsula and is surrounded by water.
More proof of Gen X stupidity. They know all about technology and nothing about anything else. I work with dumb f(&%$ like this. All Head Up A%$ types who think they know it all. It goes without saying that their people skills are equally abysmal. Can't make a sentence with a subject and predicate, work with a woefully limited vocabulary and express themselves with the most common and intellectually ehausted language, dress like happy Halloween, cannot comprehend personal hygiene, defer to no one and observe or respect no authority above themselves, etc. But they know it all....
How about incompetent program developers with little knowledge of software security issues?
How's that been for the companies reputation and "trust rating"?
Well, Political Corectness DOES have its own cost! LOL! Couldn't happen to a better company!
Well whats even worse is that they have people who review this stuff before they test market anything and sometimes when you just distribute something under your label you don't completely know everything about the product. Unfortunately it happens ALL THE TIME. Not only to Micro$oft.
A Transworld Airlines employee once told me he nearly got TWA kicked out of Egypt because he innocently routed a message to Israel thru the TWA Egyptian office. Back then, even acknowledging the existence of Israel was a major offense.
RE: showed the disputed Jammu-Kashmir region as not being in India
Actually, I've seen similar things on many "PC" maps, which were intended to appease Pakistani and Chinese sensibilities. Both Pakistan and the PRC want to promote the idea that Kashmir is *wholly* not part of India. Hmmm ... I wonder if the person who embedded that map was the PRC national on an H1B, or maybe even one in the PRC at MS's Red Chinese development center?
This is why MS must be allowed to hire more and more H1-B and other kinds of itinerant workers.
Americans are woefully ignorant of geography since the subject was subsumed into the gooey mess of social studies.
That said, the TV networks have gone back and forth on their depiction of Kashmir on their maps.
Now they do show the Paki part, the Indian part, and the part that Pakistan gave to China.
IMO, it should be shown as part of India - after all, Pakis attacked India in Kashmir in 1948 - the terms of accession were clear to all before Partition and it's typical islami BS that they changed their minds after agreeing to the terms.
FWIW, in Age of Empires the Christians can also convert mosques to churches. Winner takes all.
It doesn't sound like many, if any, of those gaffes are Microsoft's fault. It seems to me that those offended countries are either in denial, way too sensitive, or are the ones being pricks. If China wants to continue to deny reality and continue to think Taiwan is theirs, how is that the fault of MS? How many Nicaraguans know that 'cracker' is an offensive term to some whites? (Hell, the article even notes that MS made the changes.) And the fact is that churches were converted to mosques.
None of the problems stem from a lack of basic geography. They stem from the geopolitical unstability of those complaining nations. No MS employee would be arrested here or in Puerto Rico for referring to Puerto Rico as a state like they would be in India or Pakistan for going one way or the other with Kashmir. (Ain't MS's fault that those countries want to stifle free speech.) In the one instance where Muslims were offended by Koranic chants being included in a game, that was the fault of Japanese developers.
This article is yet another anti-American hit piece by the Guardian. There are a lot of cultures in the world. You're going to know your culture better than an outsider. The US is the most prominent culture and is akin to a celebrity. More people are going to know about us than we do about them. So in reality, it's other countries who are being culturally insensitive when they won't allow for some leeway in these mistakes in cultural interaction. The fact is that Americans are way more tolerant (often too tolerant) of other cultures than they are of us. They should STFU. If Microsoft wants to bend over in the name of cultural sensitivity, that's their business.
>>Ain't MS's fault that those countries want to stifle free speech.
You ever read the Indian or Paki press?
Stop shilling for MS; if their stupidity and ignorance leads to them making mistakes, then it's their fault. Simple.
If they put out a product, it's incumbent upon them to be accurate.
As opposed to the writer of this article, who is woefully ignorant of technology. To wit: "The mistake led to the whole of the Windows 95 operating system being banned in the country, losing large sales. For its replacement, Microsoft, Office 97".
The bozo doesn't even know the difference between an operating system and productivity software.
Right! Americans are bad and stupid, remember that.