Microsoft is the good boy in the class of big tech giants. But may be legacy media should take a better look at the company
The US authorities came out with big news December 8th, when the FTC sued to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of the video game publisher Activision Blizzard, the biggest consumer tech deal in two decades. In the gaming world, Microsoft is the world’s second largest company, while Activision is the fifth largest. A takeover would give Microsoft a dominant position in the highly lucrative digital games market.
At the same time, it was a sensational move by the US authority, who for decades has allowed technology companies grow too grow enormous without regulation or interference. It has mainly been the EU that has moved into antitrust regulation to stop takeovers and monopoly abuses, but now we got real new tones from the US, even if it will be hard to win the case.
Yet, this huge news was only briefly reported in tech and specialised media. Not in the mainstream legacy media, where Microsoft generally gets off far too lightly. The company, which in Denmark – and to some extent also in Europe – is seen as the good boy in the big tech class, has in recent years shown very different faces.
The Data Ethics Role Model
In Denmark, Microsoft is often used by authorities and organisations as the poster child for data ethics, and the company doesn’t hesitate to explain its responsible use of data and artificial intelligence. Governmental agencies, public schools and lots of businesses use Microsoft’s software, which is considered perfectly okay, unlike Google’s, for example. And Nanna Bule was appointed chair of Denmark’s official Digitalisation Council, while she was still chief executive of Microsoft Denmark.
Yet, there’s actually not much responsibility over Microsoft. The company’s Office 365 has recently been ruled out by German data regulators, who have banned authorities from using it because Microsoft is too secretive about how it uses personal data. A case, incidentally, that has only been reported in the tech media, even though the Danes have to comply with the same EU law as the Germans. In France, too, Microsoft’s software has been banned in primary schools, just like Google’s.
Microsoft is also behind a programme, Viva, which monitors employee behaviour in a rather creepy way. For example, if you write emails during meetings or at night and send emails to users about their behaviour – even if companies don’t pay for the system. Neither has been unfolded critically in the wider media.
Microsoft’s ownership of LinkedIn should also be looked at in the algorithms. It collects vast amounts of valuable professional data without us knowing what Microsoft is doing with it.
In many ways, Denmark has been in love with Microsoft for a long time, and one reason is certainly a lack of media focus. The latest example is this week’s massive publicity of a new artificially intelligent chatbot.
ChatGPT has surprised many people because, by capitalising on all the content of the internet, it can write quite good text where humans find it very difficult to tell the difference between a machine and a human-generated text. The company behind it, OpenAI, has given everyone ‘free’ access – including schoolchildren, who can now freely cheat with their assignments without teachers having a chance to notice.
OpenAI could have behaved responsibly and, for example, restricted access or invented another tool that could reveal if a text is generated by ChatGPT. All uses of artificial intelligence, in general, should be trademarked. But no, OpenAI has launched something truly disruptive with no regard to laws, rules and ethics. On the contrary, it has now – with the help of fascinated journalists, among others – attracted millions more sign-ups, who have then tested the tool for free, and then Open AI can start charging money for it.
And who is one of the main owners of OpenAI?
It’s Microsoft, of course.
Which has also been largely absent from the journalistic coverage of ChatGPT.
Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
The illustrations are generated by Open AI’s Dall-E tool, that takes content from all over the web and generates new content with the use of AI. I put in this text: Microsoft big tech with many faces and creepy workspace surveillance
This column was first published in the Danish in the national daily Politiken, where the author is a columnist