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The Microsoft-LinkedIn hookup will be the END of DAYS, I tell you

Running away with worst-case scenarios

Sysadmin blog In case you've been living under a rock, Microsoft has bought LinkedIn. Unlike many, you'll notice I'm not laughing. I am not amused. I'm am, in fact, quite afraid.

In many regions – my home nation of Canada being one of them – LinkedIn absolutely dominates career discovery and acquisition. Note the term "career". Jobber McJobs can be had in the traditional fashion, but if you want something that isn't poverty-tier and has the faintest hint of a prayer of upwards mobility, you are going to use LinkedIn.

Perhaps more to the point, unless you're on LinkedIn, with a well-crafted and carefully curated profile, you're a nobody. You don't exist. And who you know – via your connections and endorsements – plays an ever-increasing role in the quality and type of job you can obtain in today's increasingly socially-networked knowledge economy.

Now Microsoft, a convicted monopolist that distributes product marketing nagware as security updates and who has proven serially untrustworthy will own the gateway to your career.


A disordered mind

In no particular order – much like the never-ending stream of emails I get from both Microsoft and LinkedIn – here are my thoughts on the consequences of the Microsoft/LinkedIn collision.

Some things could actually be useful. Microsoft has done an okay job with the Microsoft Virtual Academy. I can see similarities here with LinkedIn's training site; a training site that, quite frankly, is actually rather good.

Microsoft doesn't like criticism. Being Microsoft, however, they get rather a lot of it. LinkedIn has been aspiring to become a content publishing platform for some time. Moosh all this together and I see the inevitable rise of a technology magazine so sycophantically pro-Microsoft that even Ed Bott would blush.

There's a whole new market to be had creating a Sadville-like virtual city of HoloLens-powered virtual offices. LinkedIn would be an obvious banner under which to grow this effort. Telecommuting employees could be in the office even when not physically in the office, with their attentiveness and productivity tracked and subjected to analytics in ways that aren't possible with a physical office.

Why restrict yourself to physical employees? Mash up the Microsoft Store with LinkedIn and the emerging "bot economy" can really take off!

Naturally, Cortana is the obvious choice for all roles in all companies, but if for some reason you want a different virtual employee then Microsoft will now have a head start in finding it for you. And, of course, 30 per cent off your monthly subscription to it. Forget Clippy: with everything Cortana knows about you she can auto-generate your LinkedIn profile. Progress!

In fact, given Microsoft's move towards removing customer control over their environment, it wouldn't shock me if everyone got an auto-generated profile by default. Getting manual control over your profile would probably require an Enterprise SA agreement with a minimum of five users at {extortionate amount} per month.

Microsoft have shown that they are not above using malware techniques to push Windows 10. All that really remains is ransomware. Why hold a desktop to ransom, however, when you can hold someone's entire career? It would really suck if Microsoft's purchase of LinkedIn evolves, (or devolves,) into Peeple, but "for professionals", and with careers on the line.

The spectacularly creepy possibilities

Bing can already be used to help predict if you have cancer. If you start throwing together everything Cortana hoovers up, Microsoft has a pretty good idea of your entire life.

Cortana knows everything you do. Your search history, the files you create, the applications you open and even for how long you have those applications as the foreground application. Every letter you type, every website you visit, every news article you read, every second you slack off; Cortana knows it all.

Imagine how valuable all that information is. Wrap it in a layer of bull about "pesudoanonymous" whatever in an attempt to make those pesky privacy fuzzy wuzzies go away and you could sell that as part of employer analytics, employee/employer "matching", you name it.

Looking for a work-from-home type that actually works eight hours a day? Now Cortana can give you a list of profiles! Looking for people who get paid eight hours a day but actually work 12? Cortana knows!

How about auxiliary information? Maybe your goal is to reduce corporate medical insurance costs. Cortana also knows how much time you spend on the Xbox, and how much of that is sedentary gaming versus Kinect-powered exercise. Hell, Cortana can probably even use the Kinect to tract the evolution of your body shape to determine if you meet corporate fitness guidelines.

Cortana's knowledge and LinkedIn's connections and endorsements information combine to make an attractive Big Data pool about employees.

Think about the "with whom do these people interact?" and "what does these people do with their spare time?" question for a moment. {Insert creepy overly invasive government agency here} already uses metadata like this to find out if we terrorists, smoke weed, speak out too frequently about human rights, vote for the wrong party or put out too many bags of garbage.

The combined personal information Microsoft will have on us is not only very attractive to governments, it is attractive to employers. For example, Microsoft could create a "thought leadership" metric that is industry or job title specific. Does that potential employee really have the chops to be a social media nerd? Is your sysadmin secretly an influential powerhouse in the virtualization industry?

Think of the analytics possibilities! What level of risk do your employees present if they decide to say negative things about you? Have any employees started communicating, searching for or connecting with your competitors recently? Are they searching for a new job?

The more we move out of the professional side, the creepier it gets. Are you good with money? Do you have debt problems? Do you get along with your parents? How healthy is your marriage? Do you talk to friends a lot? How often do you play what kinds of video games? What movies do you watch? TV shows? What books do you read? Where do you travel? What kind of hotels do you stay in?

Give me access to this kind of data and I'll tell you what kind of risk you are as an employee. Are you a train wreck whose personal life will constantly get in the way of work? Or one of those pee-in-jars types that gets so into their work I can chain you to a desk and periodically throw Snickers bars over the roof?

Selling the information Cortana collects directly would be illegal. Selling pesudoanonymous "scores" in various areas, if done right, would absolutely be legal in the US. And as we all know, only the US's laws ever actually matter.

It's all a bit of fun...right?

When you consider what a combined Microsoft and LinkedIn know about you, the possibilities are pretty scary. The same could be said of others, of course, so everything ultimately boils down to how much - or if - you trust Microsoft.

Now, I've been having fun writing this. Most of this is likely to be over the top paranoia, upjumped for a bit of a larf and hopefully provoke a thought or two. Or so I hope.

On the other hand, many HR departments hire entirely by certification, resulting in IT departments full of certified idiots who can't actually do anything in the real world. Add to this that Microsoft does seem obsessed with emulating Apple and Google at every turn, and Google seems to hoover up every scrap of information about everything (and everyone) that it can find.

So maybe – just maybe – some of the above fears are justified. Which ones ultimately form part of tomorrow's dystopia, that's up for grabs. What do you think? What could the Microsoft/LinkedIn mashup give birth to? Answers in the comments, please. ®

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