Skype's Ask The Whitehouse scam (Biden, Munoz, immigration, Bing, Microsoft)


There have been several scams or near-scams where internet services solicit questions for politicians which are then asked on those services. Several years ago, Youtube joined with CNN to solicit video questions that they asked at a presidential debate; they chose the weakest and dumbest questions possible. See popular voting systems for several other examples.

But, the biggest scam so far has to be Skype's "Ask The Whitehouse" (#AskTheWhitehouse) event to be held on December 11, 2013. Skype and Bing - both part of Microsoft - are soliciting immigration questions on video to be asked of Joe Biden and Cecilia Munoz. Unlike past contests, in order to have your video question asked you have to jump through a series of hoops:

* You need a computer with a webcam (real or virtual) and a fast connection.
* You need to sign up for a Skype account.
* You need to download and install the Skype software (that installer asks to set Bing as your default search engine and MSN as your homepage).
* You need to be running Windows 7 or 8.
* You need to use a specific, new feature in Skype (that apparently Microsoft wants to promote)
* You need to sign away all but your immortal soul to Microsoft [1].

I spent a few hours trying to comply with the first three points. I had Skype installed but I created a new account for the contest. I don't have a webcam, but I spent the time to install and try to configure a couple of virtual webcams, with the goal being to play a video I created over the virtual webcam. The introductory video Skype provides (youtube . com/watch?v=axRV4KlUy0o) didn't match up to the version of Skype I had installed, but I tried to place a video call to "AskTheWhitehouse". The first seven times there was no answer. Only on the eighth try did it connect, and the message I got said I had to do something that wasn't present in the Skype interface. So, I then had to download and install the latest version of Skype. Only then did I see the "Send a video message" option, but it was grayed out. A quick search (not in Bing) later, I found out that feature is only available in later versions of Windows (I'm using XP and hopefully one day I'll make the jump to Linux).

As bad as Youtube, Facebook, etc. are, they didn't require that much work to ask politicians questions.

Not only are all the things Microsoft wants you to do completely self-serving, but the contest content will almost assuredly fit that description.

Microsoft has a clear financial stake in comprehensive immigration reform: for years they've been one of the major forces lobbying for increased H1B limits and other steps that would increase the number of workers available to them. The chances that Microsoft will pick tough questions that show how the high immigration position is wrong are slim: that's not in their financial interest. And, not asking Biden or Munoz tough questions will help Microsoft with their lobbying efforts. (If I'm wrong and a tough question is asked, I'll take that back but I don't think I'll have to do that.)

The video below is the first of several that I would have submitted. I'll save that and the others for the next scam.

Want to do something about this? Let the spokesman for the contest, Jason Zone Fisher (@JZFish) know what you think. And, encourage reporters to ask Biden (@VP) and Munoz (@Cecilia44) why they're in effect shilling for a commercial service that only some can access.

UPDATE: Others you can chat with include Natali Morris (@natalimorris, host of the event), Bill Cox (@billcox, a Microsoft strategist), and Elisa Steele (@elisasteele, "CMO, Consumer Apps & Services" for Microsoft)

12/11/13 UPDATE: All the questions asked were very weak, and Biden and Munoz were able to deflect them with ease. The two or three pro-borders questions selected just served as setup questions for Biden. That shows yet again that regular citizens asking politicians questions does the U.S. no good. It might get those asking the questions more renown - some might even their goal of getting on Fox News - but it doesn't hold the administration accountable. Those who have the chance to ask questions need to put what's good for the U.S. ahead of what's good for their careers.

Here are some of the questions I tweeted during the event (hashtags removed):

  • What impact will former illegal aliens moving up in the job market have on US citizens in those jobs now?
  • Will some admitted to "reform" be able to move up in the job mkt & compete for jobs they can't get now?
  • Won't "reform" be a huge amnesty for crooked companies that have knowingly hired illegal aliens?
  • "reform" includes penalties for illegal aliens. What penalties are there for their crooked employers?
  • Do WalMart, McDonalds, Tyson Foods, etc. normally do things that *raise* wages?
  • If "pay levels will go up" as Biden claims, why do WalMart, McDonalds, Tyson Foods, etc. all want "reform"?
  • Here's how Joe Biden is 100% wrong about "reform" raising wages:
  • Do some pols enable illegal in order to get donations? Would you call that political corruption, or what?
  • .@VP: 1 citizen & 1 illegal alien apply for 1 UDel slot. If they're equally qualified, who do you think should get in?
  • .@VP: in 2006, you supported punishing employers of illegal aliens. How many cases have there been in your term?
  • 1 illegal alien & 1 citizen apply for 1 UMich slot. If they're equally qualified, who do you think should get in?
  • Have hundreds of Somalis with possible links to terrorism been smuggled into the U.S. illegally?
  • Are there individuals in the United States who ascribe to al-Qaeda-type beliefs due to lax border/visa controls?
  • Has DHS ever caught, released, and then not been able to find illegal aliens from terror-supporting states?
  • Do you agree that terrorists cross the border "from time to time"?
  • Are there known cases of Hezbollah sympathizers crossing the border illegally?
  • When educated professionals emigrate from Africa to the U.S., does that increase regional instability?
  • Are there 100,000s of unemployed Americans who are physically capable of doing jobs that illegal aliens now do?
  • What impact has braindrain had on #Haiti, and what impact has that had on the U.S.?
  • Name some long-term, negative impacts *on the U.S.* from depriving developing countries of their smart, active people.
  • Does #Microsoft have a direct financial stake in "reform"?
  • #McDonalds strongly supports "reform". Are they in the habit of doing things that raise their labor costs?
  • Biden uses this bogus talking point:
  • Oh gosh, yet another weak "conservative" question. I missed the idiot.
  • If a doctor from Zambia emigrates to the U.S., does that, generally speaking, help or hurt his country?
  • 1 illegal alien & 1 equally qualified citizen apply for 1 college slot. If illegal alien is accepted, what also happens?
  • Why do #WalMart & #McDonalds support "reform" so much? What do they hope to gain?
  • Why does USChamber support "reform" so much? What do their mbrs hope to gain for themselves?
  • Other than the #DREAMAct or letting DREAMers stay in the U.S. w/o going to college, can you think up another option?
  • How #DREAMAct will screw some Americans out of college:
  • ICYMI, is a scam: I won't have to correct that to say any questions were tough.
  • NB: the answer to the last is 5 to 10 years. Ergo, "reform" bg checks won't be FBI quality.
  • At the present rate, approx how long would it take to do FBI quality background checks on 10 million ppl?
  • What impact will former illegal aliens moving up in the job market have on Americans in those jobs now?
  • Will some of those in "reform" be able to move up in the job mkt & compete for jobs they can't get now?
  • Won't "reform" be a huge amnesty for crooked companies that have hired illegal aliens under the table?

12/11/13 UPDATE 2: This event was even more of an outrageous scam than I first predicted. From "White House vetted questioners for Biden’s Skype chat" (link):

...those who actually got to speak directly with Biden were first recruited by Skype and vetted by the White House.

Skype spokesman Chaim Haas said the Microsoft-owned company reached out last week to people already active in the immigration debate in order to find people to interact with Biden and White House domestic policy chief Cecilia Munoz.

Skype then submitted a list of would-be questioners to the White House, which eliminated some of them from contention, Haas said.

“We said, ‘Here are a bunch of panelists, we really like these, what do you guys think,’” Haas said. “They rejected a bunch and then the others we used.”

...Haas said he could not identify who at the White House was responsible for vetting the questioners and categorized the number of people rejected as “a very small percentage” of those offered. One was removed because the person is a Capitol Hill staffer, but Hass said he did not recall the circumstances around others.

But the White House did not receive an advance look at questions posed to Biden and Munoz, Haas said.

[1] If your video is selected, you have to sign and submit a lengthy release form that goes beyond other release forms that I've seen. Here's just the first paragraph:

I hereby grant Microsoft and its legal representatives, licensees, and assigns (hereinafter “Microsoft”) an unrestricted, perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable license, with rights to assign and sublicense, to use my name, image, likeness, signature, voice, or other aspects of my personality as depicted in or related to the Media, in various Microsoft hardware and software products including but not limited to all product editions and versions, SKUs, updates, associated products and services, service packs, upgrades, subsequent releases, whether similarly branded or not, and localizations in all foreign languages of the products, all Microsoft Web sites, including all editions, successors, future versions and upgrades thereto, (collectively, the “Products”) and any marketing and advertising materials for the Products, on a worldwide basis.

If you sign that, they could put your name and picture on the box for Windows 9 if they wanted.