Microsoft says large tech antitrust points could be solved with laws, not lawsuits

Microsoft’s antitrust history gives it an unusual perspective on technology policy these days.

James Martin / CNET

Microsoft has built a monopoly on powering computers and the Internet Explorer web browser on the back of its Windows software. A judge even made this finding in 2001 after a three-year government investigation into the company. But after that, Microsoft effectively got a multi-million dollar slap on the wrist and was still Microsoft.

Two decades later, the US government launched an antitrust debate over Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. While Microsoft isn’t a target this time around, the company says there are important lessons governments should learn from the 2001 fall.

“Twenty years ago almost exclusively the vehicle used by the governments was an investigation and a lawsuit. It was a case against individual companies,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith on Tuesday in an editorial discussion with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. This time around, Smith said, governments seem to be realizing that legislation can help allay major competition concerns. “I think regulators have generally concluded that the cases are both too tight and too slow.”

Look at that:

Microsoft CEO on using technology for good, not bad


The European Union has introduced ideas such as the Digital Markets Act, which aims to demonstrate the extent to which companies with a large user base can promote their own products to users who are ahead of a competitor, and the Digital Services Act, which puts pressure on Companies would exercise to better moderate their platforms. Tech companies could face fines of up to 10% of their worldwide sales – easily running into billions – for breaking these rules when implemented.

The EU isn’t the only government targeting technology. Microsoft’s comments come at a time when governments around the world are raising concerns about increasing signs of bad behavior by technology companies. Amazon, Apple and Google have all been accused of bringing their competitors to their knees by rightly bringing their own products to the top of search results. Facebook has often failed to stop the spread of disinformation, misinformation and hate speech.

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For Nadella, this is part of a larger problem in the technology world, where companies first worry about growth before worrying about the unintended consequences that come with this type of scaling. For example, companies would need to consider how their growth could affect people’s trust. And whether the company is fair when it grows.

“The business model and technology must account for the unintended consequence, where the unit of measure is one,” he said.

For many tech watchers, that’s a bit rich, given that they come from the CEO of Microsoft, a company whose software grew so quickly and insistently on global scale that it eventually led to antitrust law in 2001.

Phone screen with logos for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

The European Union is debating several laws designed to contain big tech.

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Nadella has tried to soften the killer instinct of Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates and his successor as CEO Steve Ballmer. Instead, Nadella talks about Microsoft as a company designed to help other companies succeed. “You are participating here not to be cool, but to make others cool,” he told CNET in 2018. “You want to be cool by doing this empowerment. It’s the result that matters.”

Smith often acts as Microsoft’s outspoken voice on political and political issues that affect the company and its employees.

He has also dealt with larger legal issues that his technical colleagues face. Most recently, Microsoft said it supported an Australian law that would force companies like Google and Facebook to share revenue with news publications whose articles appear on their platforms. Google threatens to shut down its search engine in Australia if the law is passed.

“The business model and technology must take into account the unintended consequences.”

Satya Nadella, Microsoft

“The code is sensibly trying to address the imbalance in bargaining power between digital platforms and Australian news companies,” Smith said in a statement on Wednesday. “While Microsoft is not subject to the laws currently pending, we would be willing to comply with those rules if the government determines us.”

Although antitrust law was certainly one of the most pressing topics Microsoft discussed during its media roundtable, the software maker also discussed social media and other political issues.

On TikTok

Phone screens with the Microsoft and TikTok logos.

For a while, it looked like Microsoft was going to buy the social media darling TikTok. But the deal failed.

Angela Lang / CNET

When Microsoft said it was interested in buying the popular TikTok social media app last year, many tech watchers were confused. Microsoft makes business software like Office and Teamsand video games for the Xbox business. Even the LinkedIn social media network, which Microsoft bought for more than $ 26 billion in 2016, is focused on the professional world. It didn’t have much experience managing a social media network popular with teenagers.

Nadella said he saw an opportunity to run a social network under his company’s motto, Protecting Privacy, Ensuring Internet Safety and Stopping Disinformation. And since TikTok is still growing fast, he believes these values ​​can make a difference early on.

“One of the things we realized is the context. LinkedIn, for example, has a very powerful context, and we take advantage of that. We made calls where we were sort of like, oh, there is an editorial context that we are bring to bear. ” even to manage and organize the conversation, “said Nadella.” The most important thing for me is not to wait for your property to scale. “

About President Joe Biden

Computer screen with the word

According to Microsoft, the Biden administration has placed skilled employees in key cybersecurity and national security roles.

Graphic from Pixabay / Illustration from CNET

Microsoft, like many tech companies, was in a difficult position during President Donald Trump’s tenure. On the one hand, the government is sometimes an important customer. On the other hand, companies spoke out against the president’s Muslim bans, the policy of separating families at the border, and crackdown on H-1B visas.

By comparison, Smith said things look like they will be less controversial with President Joe Biden’s team. But that’s not just politics, Smith said. “I just think the Biden administration is quick to put a number of really skilled cybersecurity and national security experts in key roles,” he said. “They focus on this issue and public-private collaboration.”

Cybersecurity continues to be one of the most pressing national security and privacy issues facing technology today. In December, researchers discovered that hackers had injected malicious code into SolarWinds’ network monitoring software. This company’s products are used by state and federal agencies in the United States and by many companies around the world including Microsoft. The attacks to date have been attributed to Russian and Chinese hackers.

Smith said that many companies and governments are still not adequately protected from cyberattacks and are not connected to the internet in such a way that they can easily detect attacks.

“This is number one where we need to do more work to help these organizations and governments determine if they are still the subject of this attack,” he said.

Because of that, Smith added that he felt better when the Biden administration put cybersecurity and national security experts in key roles.

“At this point, a few months later, I would say that we are probably feeling better about where the US government is because the government has been taking action to address cybersecurity issues,” he added.

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