The big tech vendor and trust

The “original gangster of big tech” has managed to dodge the bad headlines and congressional grilling that have ensnared its rivals by working with regulators and advocating its own solutions. —Daria Solovieva | 01.10.19 | Fast Company

I was raising money for my first startup back in 1998. It was the seed round which focused on individual (angel) investors. I had been introduced to a senior architect at Intel who I really, really wanted to invest. He was well-connected and obviously tech-savvy but it was his reputation for ethics that made me think he would add so much more than money to Cenquest.

Alas, he was on the witness list for the major federal prosecution of Microsoft for violations of antitrust laws. By the time he was clear of it we had closed the round.

Years later, I was on contract as launch director for a major new business incubator in Oregon. Open source software is more pervasive than ever before but back then it was emerging as a strategic force. I describe the details of that project and the launch event here but germane to this post, when the Governor of Oregon returned to his chambers after our event, a lobbyist from Microsoft was waiting for him. It was not a friendly conversation.

I think back on those two indirect encounters with Microsoft and marvel at how the “brand” has changed. Some of the best of thought leadership around data privacy and ethics in AI comes out of Microsoft Research. Some of my colleagues from back in my open source days now hold influential positions in the company and of course Microsoft recently acquired GitHub, the massive repository for open source projects.

Yet, multiple Microsoft properties operate on big data and algorithms just like Google and others. What then accounts for the company’s improved stature among privacy nerds and regulators? This is a topic many journalists who are much smarter than me, or at least more Microsoft-fixated than me, have opined. I do believe the commitment to making consumer privacy a core value of the company is a major factor and, for the most part, the company practices what it preaches.

As one journalist wrote, Microsoft’s “bad boy” reputation back in the 90s no doubt yielded important lessons that leadership decided to put into practice.

“They’ve been around the block, they’ve been the evil perpetrator before, and they’ve already learned how to play very nicely with regulators,” Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society Stanford Law School,
tells Fast Company. “That’s one of the reasons you don’t see Microsoft executives
being hauled in to Congress: They have a long-standing relationship,
through lobbyists, policymakers–they’ve been in this space for decades.”

This version appeals to my former corporate litigator self. My favorite part of a case was after it was resolved, more often than not with a win!! That was when I’d sit down with the leadership team at my client to discuss lessons learned and how to move forward less likely to end up in court again, if not pay for excessive hours of my expensive time! I

–LaVonne

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