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September 11, 2019 01:00 am

Is Microsoft a Digital Nation and Does It Have a Secretary of State?

Longtime Slashdot reader cccc828 shares a report from The Economist, which poses the question: Is Microsoft a digital nation and does it have a secretary of state? "The answer of Brad Smith, the software giant's top lawyer, is, well, diplomatic," the report says. "Nation states are run by governments and firms need to be accountable to them, he says. But yes, he admits, he worries a lot about geopolitics these days." Here's an excerpt from the report: Mr Smith presides over an operation comparable in size to the foreign office of a mid-sized country. Its 1,500 employees work in departments like "Law Enforcement and National Security" or "Digital Diplomacy Group." It has outposts in 56 countries, sending regular cables to headquarters in Redmond, near Seattle. Mr Smith is as itinerant as a foreign minister. In one year he visited 22 countries and met representatives of 40 governments. [...] Mr Smith says a coherent corporate foreign policy is simply good business: it creates trust, which attracts customers. His doctrine indeed sits well with Microsoft's business model, based on sales of services and software. It can afford to be more of a purist on privacy and the spread of disinformation, the most politically contentious tech issues of the day, than giants whose profits come from targeted advertising on social networks. Acknowledging Microsoft's mixed record in the past, the article concludes: A dose of hypocrisy is perhaps inevitable in an organization the size of Microsoft. Critics level a more fundamental charge against its foreign policy, however. Where, they ask, does it -- and fellow tech giants -- derive the legitimacy to be independent actors on the international stage? This is the wrong question to pose. As businesses, they have every right to defend the interests of shareholders, employees and customers. As global ones, their priorities may differ from those of their home country's elected officials. And as entities which control much of the world's digital infrastructure, they should have a say in designing the international norms which govern it. At a time when many governments refuse to lead, why should the firms not be allowed to? Especially if, like Microsoft's, their efforts blend principles with pragmatism. How does your company deal with the ever more complex realities of world politics?

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