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- Microsoft President Brad Smith told a room full of journalists that he has “sympathy” for executives at tech companies who find themselves under regulatory scrutiny these days.
- Smith was working at Microsoft back in the ’90s, when Microsoft was sued by the federal government over its business practices, and put under a decade of government oversight.
- Smith said that after the Trump administration’s travel ban some 23 months ago, the tech industry came together for a meeting.
- Since then, he’s had ongoing meetings with top senior execs in the industry to “share notes” on the big issues.
Microsoft’s top lawyer says that he regularly meets with the most senior executives at the biggest tech companies to discuss how the industry is being targeted by regulators, and what to do about it.
So said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, on Monday to a room full of journalists in Seattle as part of an invite-only day for the media.
Without naming names, he talked about these meetings. He said that these meetings began around the “immigration issue” of 23 months ago – specifically, President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries.
“We get together regularly. We get together with more senior people. I participate in these conversations. We compare notes,” he said.
When asked by Business Insider for more information about which executives were involved in those meetings – and, specifically, whether they include leadership from the scandal-plagued Facebook – Smith deflected the question.
“We definitely have meetings with very senior people at very successful companies to talk about what’s happening in the world. What are the issues that people see? What positions people have and how can we take steps together,” he said.
He added, “you can sort of put the pieces together,” implying that perhaps Facebook, and maybe even people at the level of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or COO Sheryl Sandberg, come to the table.
Smith went so far as to suggest that the tech industry could use more such togetherness. “To some degree we would benefit if we had a few more of those issues that would compel us [big tech companies] to come together,” he said.
It makes sense for Microsoft to attend these meetings: Microsoft was the first of today’s big internet company to face regulation. Back in the ’90s, Microsoft was sued by the government over its business practices, labeled a monopoly, and forced to change its ways under regulatory scrutiny.
Asked what he thinks about internet companies under similar scrutiny today, his answer was surprising.
He thinks of the people involved at each company and has “sympathy” for them, he said. The companies that have been under the spotlight lately include Facebook, Microsoft’s rivals at Google, and, to a lesser extent, Amazon and Twitter.
Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter have all testified to Congress, asked about everything from their role in the elections to their company’s political leanings to their handling of data breaches.
Smith was part of Microsoft back when it was sued by the government, and recalls that this was a difficult process for the company. He said the first part of dealing with regulatory scrutiny is looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself.
“It’s about listening to, and ultimately internalizing, criticism,” he said, noting that this is something that’s simply hard for many human beings to do. “I therefore always have sympathy for people,” he said.