Microsoft fires worker over weblog
Many people post work-related entries on personal blogs, but they don't
expect to be terminated

By TODD BISHOP
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Michael Hanscom began keeping an online journal, commonly known as a
weblog, several years ago. He started his job as a contract worker in
Microsoft's print shop last year. Last week, he mixed the two.

This week, he's looking for a new job, after becoming an unwilling case
study in the fine line walked by corporate employees who write about work
in their personal weblogs.

It all started when Hanscom noticed something interesting on the loading
dock on his way into work a week ago -- three pallets of shiny new Apple
Power Mac G5 computers, clearly destined for somewhere on the company's
Redmond campus.

The scene wasn't entirely surprising. Although the companies are in many
ways rivals, Microsoft makes software for the Mac operating system, and
Microsoft makes no secret of the fact that it tests competing
technologies, including the Linux operating system.

But Hanscom, a 30-year-old Seattle resident who has his own Power Mac G5
at home, found the arrival of the computers interesting enough to stop and
snap a photo. Later, after getting home from work, he posted it to his
weblog, under the words, "It looks like somebody over in Microsoft land is
getting some new toys."

Under the photo, he explained that he had come across the computers at
Microsoft's shipping-and-receiving facility, which he identified as being
in the same building as the print shop where he worked. He was careful, he
says, not to photograph anything around the computers that would have
indicated the location.

On Monday, when Hanscom came into work, his manager asked him about the
post and informed him that he was being let go. Hanscom says he took from
the conversation that the post was considered a security risk because a
careful reader could decipher from his description the location of the
shipping-and-receiving department.

According to Hanscom, he offered to take the post down, but he was told
that wouldn't prevent the company from letting him go. "I would have much
rather have done that than have lost my paycheck," he said yesterday.

As the weblogging phenomenon has taken off, there have been isolated
incidents around the country in which companies fired employees for
posting in their personal weblogs work-related material that executives
consider compromising or inappropriate. But Hanscom appears to be the
first person let go for that reason from Microsoft, where an ever
increasing number of employee webloggers regularly post work-related
material.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake declined to comment specifically about
Hanscom's situation, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters.

"However, we do recognize that weblogging is a legitimate form of
communication," Drake said. "As you know, a number of Microsoft employees
have weblogs, and we respect and support their decision to do so, as long
as they abide by our confidentiality agreements -- which would apply to
any form of external communication."

Hanscom isn't sure, but he doesn't think his firing had anything to do
with the fact that the computers he photographed were Macs. He says he
understands if Microsoft might have been concerned about the security
implications of his posting, but he wishes the company would have figured
out a way to correct the problem without firing him. He doesn't recall
signing any confidentiality agreement when he was hired. A long-term
temporary worker, his job at the company was through an employment agency.

Rebecca Blood, author of "The Weblog Handbook," agreed that Microsoft
could have resolved the situation better, at least based on the available
information about what happened.

"If Microsoft is genuinely concerned about the physical security of their
campus, this wouldn't have been a good way to handle that," she said.
"Firing people who inadvertently break a rule doesn't prevent other people
from breaking it again."

Hanscom, meanwhile, has become a minicelebrity after technology sites,
including the popular Slashdot, picked up his Monday weblog post
describing his firing. He has gotten calls from representatives of news
organizations, and he woke up yesterday to more than 250 e-mails from
people offering comments about the situation.

"I couldn't believe that it was getting that much attention," Hanscom
said, explaining that his weblog is usually read mostly by people close to
him. "I never expected it to go beyond family and friends.

--
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