His is not a household name like that of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, or Amazon's Jeff Bezos. But Microsoft President Brad Smith is no rookie on the Big Tech scene. On the contrary, his career with the Redmond-based giant has spanned multiple decades.
In the 2000s, Smith spearheaded the company's relentless drive to shake down free and open source projects for using thousands of Microsoft's patents of questionable merit. CNN at the time had a report about this under a rather chilling headline, “Microsoft takes on the free world.”
More recently, Smith has been there to champion Microsoft's pivot towards abandoning much of those patent claims, and “embracing” open-source – purely as a means to keep the company's seriously imperiled business afloat. Although, Smith has had no qualms about selling it as some sort of genuine epiphany.
And these days, Microsoft seems to be ready to “take on the free internet” – as Smith is championing the idea of “governments” stepping in and regulating tech companies. This is not something tech companies themselves would want to see – but it's something very popular with politicians and mainstream media in the United States. Hence, it should be no surprise that it's also popular with Brad.
He told NPR that the lack of more forceful government interference in the way tech companies do their business will eventually spell the downfall of democracy. This alarmist message is based on Smith's belief that online platforms are being used as tools to undermine elections, and should, therefore, be regulated by governments.
One of the ways he seems to be advocating is to strip tech companies of the safe harbor protections that allow them to publish content without being legally liable for it – and that includes “hate speech, death threats and ads for counterfeit goods or illegal guns.”
In essence, Smith is deflecting while repeating the criticism that Big Tech has endured from the media and politicians, including when it comes to the way massive amounts of data are being handled. At the same time, he is positioning Microsoft as a force for good. But in reality, Microsoft is a part of Big Tech. The only difference being, that due to its current business model, tighter regulation would hit its competitors hard – while leaving Microsoft relatively unscathed.