Microsoft President Chides Facebook, Warns of Weaponisation of Tech

Microsoft President Chides Facebook, Warns of Weaponisation of Tech

Photo Credit: Photo by Jesse Dittmar for The Washington Post

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Digital technology has become both a tool and a weapon: Brad Smith
  • Smith chided Facebook for allowing influence campaigns to flourish
  • Companies can’t profit from hatemongers posting vile content, he said

Microsoft built its fortune making the tools of technology that billions use every day. But the company’s president, Brad Smith, has increasing misgivings about how thieves, terrorists and scoundrels have weaponised those tools, and how the industry has failed too often to thwart them.

He chides Facebook for allowing influence campaigns to flourish on the network that helped elect Donald Trump president in 2016. And he argues that social media companies can’t profit from hatemongers posting vile content while brushing off responsibility.

“Digital technology has become both a tool and a weapon, and we need to address that head on,” Smith said in an interview at Microsoft headquarters here. “And part of addressing it head on starts with really understanding the different ways in which it’s either serving humanity or being weaponised.”

Smith lays out his critique in his forthcoming book, “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and The Peril of The Digital Age.” Co-written with Microsoft communications executive Carol Ann Browne, the book examines the missteps tech companies have made and suggests new approaches for the industry as threats to privacy, cybercrime and disinformation mount.

The book, available Tuesday, comes during a tough summer for tech’s titans. Facebook was hit with a $5 billion (roughly Rs. 35,700 crores) fine in July for repeatedly deceiving its 2.2 billion users and undermining their privacy choices. The European Union launched an antitrust investigation into whether Amazon is misusing its dual role as both a marketplace for independent sellers and a retailer of its own products. And last week, Google’s YouTube agreed to pay out $170 million (roughly Rs. 1,200 crores) to settle allegations that it illegally collected data about children younger than age 13.

(Amazon founder chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

But Microsoft – the only tech company still valued over $1 trillion (roughly Rs. 71,00,000 crores) – has recently managed to dodge hefty fines and nasty rhetoric from lawmakers and regulators in the United States. It’s in stark contrast from two decades ago, when Microsoft was tech’s biggest bully and the subject of onerous litigation brought by the US trustbusters and investigations by competition czars around the world.

Smith acknowledges being part of the problem back then.

“We made more than our share of mistakes in the antitrust era, and I was personally responsible for almost all of them, to some degree,” he said in the interview.