A new controversy is swirling around technology giant Microsoft, and it has nothing to do with its Windows operating system, browser software, antitrust investigations, anti-piracy measures, video games, portable media players, or its stance towards patents and open source software. Instead, the company is quickly trying to apologize for intentionally altering a photo used on its business productivity Web sites to change a man’s race.
The original photo, which could be seen on the U.S. version of the Microsoft business productivity Web site, shows three people—an Asian man, a black man, and a white woman—in a typical corporate conference room, apparently experiencing some kind of euphoric reaction at material displays on an out-of-shot screen or display. However, in the version of the photo which appeared on the Polish version of the same site, the black man’s head was amateurishly swapped out for that of a white man—although the black man’s hand was left unaltered.
Microsoft has apologized for the gaffe, and replaced the version of the photo on the Polish version of the page with the original. Microsoft has said it is looking into how the image may have been swapped.
The incident has generated some accusations of racism, with suggestions that Microsoft somehow feels Asian men are appropriate for the Polish market, but black men are not. However, it is relatively common practice in marketing and stock photography to shoot different race, ethnic, and gender mixes of the same scene in order to appeal to different demographics or increase the overall diversity of a campaign. Someone at Microsoft may have chosen to go with an image of a white man to more closely match Poland’s ethnic makeup.
Other commentators have made light of the situation, humorously suggesting that the image serves as an example of Microsoft’s new photo editing technology, or that the hybrid image—a white man’s head with a black man’s hand—was intended to represent racial harmony.
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