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Satya Nadella will be in Washington today making the case that Microsoft is the tech titan that the federal government can trust.
“Trust as an asset is at the center of most discussions we have with government leaders,” the Microsoft chief executive will say at the company's Government Leaders Summit, according to prepared remarks shared exclusively with The Technology 202.
“We know that government leaders need to trust in technology and in technology providers, which we work to earn every day, just as governments are looking to build trust with their own stakeholders and citizens," he'll say in the speech to about 200 government officials and tech leaders. Nadella will dedicate much of the speech to underscoring the company's commitment to privacy, cybersecurity and ethics.
Nadella is clearly trying to carve out a competitive advantage for Microsoft, which has managed to stay out of the eye of the storm in Washington where its tech rivals are at the center of growing techlash. As the U.S. government increasingly buys tech products from big tech players, Microsoft may have an edge since it doesn't face the same scrutiny of its business from federal and state regulators. As companies such as Amazon and Google are battered with antitrust investigations and privacy mishaps, Microsoft can avoid playing defense — and make a positive pitch to work with government. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Nadella also made clear that Microsoft is doubling down on trying to do business with the federal government after tech companies have faced backlash for working with the military and Trump administration.
“We want to partner with government — not to be dependent on us from a technology standpoint, but to become independent users and builders of technology, working together with us,” he will say.
Nadella will highlight Microsoft's commitment to building “responsible” artificial intelligence, as the government turns to Big Tech to keep up with the latest in AI and cloud computing. “We believe in responsible AI, and ask the tough questions, like not just what computers can do but what they should do,” Nadella will say.
Nadella's sales pitch represents a very different tack from that of Google, which dropped a key artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon last year after employees protested due to concerns that the technology they built would be used for warfare. Google also backed off from bidding for a major government cloud computing contract, known as Project JEDI.
But while Google has moved to the sidelines, Amazon and Microsoft have increasingly been trying to make inroads with government agencies. Earlier this year, Microsoft secured a $7.6 billion deal to build software for the Pentagon. They companies also are the two finalists for the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud-computing Pentagon contract, known as Project Jedi. The Pentagon pressed pause on the contract this summer amid concerns that Amazon was receiving favoritism from the department.
Nadella today will highlight the many ways that the U.S. military is already using Microsoft technology. Here are some of the example examples he'll cite:
- The U.S. Navy is using Microsoft's Speech to Text to transcribe courtroom hearings, speeding up a previously costly and time-consuming process.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation are using Microsoft's software to predict patients' needs and develop new payment models for diseases.
- The Department of the Interior is using Microsoft's software to help manage its drones, which allow the agency to monitor more than 500 million acres of land for events like earthquakes or floods.
- Army Corps of Engineers will use Microsoft's databases to plan responses to disasters and deploy personnel to sites when a national emergency is declared.
In the prepared remarks, Nadella notably steered clear of more controversial applications of Microsoft's tech, such as how it could be deployed in battlefield settings or used to support the Trump administration's immigration policies. Microsoft had its own employee protests last year when employees demanded that the company cut ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in protest of the Trump administration's policies at the border. Nadella wrote an internal memo to employees where he said the company's contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement supported “legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads,” not any projects related to separation of migrant families.
Today's summit marks Nadella's first trip to Washington since early 2019. Izzy Santa, a company spokeswoman, tells me he will not be meeting with lawmakers or the White House — which is also a different approach than other tech executives took in recent visits. Nadella met with Veterans Affairs officials at Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center yesterday to show how an Xbox controller could be used to help veterans with therapy.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Nadella visited MedStar Washington Hospital Center yesterday. Nadella was at Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
BITS: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling on Congress and state authorities to scrutinize how Facebook handles politicians' content.
Warren is calling for hearings and investigations as she raises concerns that Facebook is allowing President Trump to run ads containing information that is “obviously untrue.”
Facebook has incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. Mark Zuckerberg is telling employees that he views a Warren administration as an “existential” threat to Facebook. The public deserves to know how Facebook intends to use their influence in this election.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
Warren is calling out Trump's ads just two weeks after Facebook announced it would not send ads from politicians' to its third-party fact-checking partners. Warren noted that Trump and Zuckerberg recently met at the Oval Office and questioned what happened during that meeting. She also said that Trump has been a large spender on Facebook ads, spending over a million dollars a week.
After that meeting, Facebook quietly changed its policies on “misinformation” in ads, allowing politicians to run ads that have already been debunked by independent, non-partisan fact-checkers. Put another way, Facebook is now okay with running political ads with known lies.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
They’re allowing Trump to spend over $1 million a week right now for ads on their platform—including ones that air the same lies that TV stations won’t. Here’s an example of an ad that Facebook let Trump run despite being obviously untrue: https://t.co/sQdKCmrkOr pic.twitter.com/2X2S95Ep0H— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
We need accountability. That should start with Congress and the appropriate state authorities opening investigations and conducting hearings to make Facebook executives explain the company’s policies and practices—under oath.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Warren's tweets. Warren’s comments are just the latest in an escalating feud between the lawmaker and the tech giant. Warren has long called to break up Facebook and other big tech companies, putting her at odds with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. A report last week that Zuckerberg called Warren an “existential threat” to the company have accelerated those tensions.
Warren also criticized Facebook for not doing enough to address election interference during the 2016 election, and she raised concerns that the company remains unprepared for 2020.
There’s no indication that Zuckerberg or Facebook executives have come to terms with the role their unpreparedness played in that successful attack, nor have they shown that they understand what needs to be done to prevent another attack in the 2020 election.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
NIBBLES: A bipartisan group of roughly 40 states attorneys general will join an antitrust investigation into Facebook led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, my colleague Tony Romm reports. The wide support for the probe illustrates a growing concern from regulators that Facebook may engage in anticompetitive behavior that undermines its rivals.
James also met with officials from the Federal Trade Commisssion and the Department of Justice yesterday, which are conducting their own probes into Facebook's competition practices, as Margaret Harding McGill first reported yesterday in Axios. Axios reported that James and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general were expected to meet with Attorney General William Barr, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Associate Attorney General for antitrust Makan Delrahim.
The new details highlight how the investigation into Facebook has expanded since James first announced the probe alongside seven other states and the District of Columbia last month. More states could join the probe yet, Tony reports.
A spokesperson for James in New York declined to comment. Facebook pointed to a previous statement on the investigation, which said the company work constructively with state attorneys general and we welcome a conversation with policymakers about the competitive environment in which we operate.”
BYTES: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a 2018 decision to throw out more than $500 million in damages owed by Apple to the University of Wisconsin for infringing on one of its patents. The win for Apple comes as it endures heavy scrutiny from federal regulators over its business practices.
A licensing body for the University of Wisconsin research first sued Apple in 2014 for allegedly ripping off its processor technology and incorporating it into several iPhone and iPad versions. Apple disputed the claims, but a federal jury slammed Apple with more than $243 million in damages — a number it doubled in 2017 after Apple continued to infringe on the patent. But a specialized federal patent court ultimately ruled that Apple could not have infringed on the patent and threw out the damages.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison’s patenting and licensing arm told the Hill that it would continue to pursue damages from Apple.
-- The number of online deepfakes, or videos manipulated with artificial intelligence, has doubled to more than 15,000 in the past seven months — and most of them are pornographic, researchers tell Tom Simonite at Wired. The new findings come as California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed two laws last week regulating the technology: one that would allow victims of deepfake porn to sue and one that makes it illegal to distribute political deepfakes within 60 days of an election. Free-speech advocates have already criticized the laws.
More news from the public sector:
— News from the private sector:
— News about tech workforce and culture:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
- Google has hired Matthew Gerson of Focus DC as a lobbyist for copyright and antitrust issues.
- BSA I The Software Alliance will host an even to discuss how Congress can build upon state and international privacy laws to develop federal legislation at 2 p.m. in Senate Dirksen Building, Room G11.
- The Open Technology Institute at New America will host an event "Enforcing a New Privacy Law: Who Should Hold Companies Accountable?" in Washington at 12:30 p.m.
— Coming up:
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing to discuss the pros and cons of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act on Oct. 16.
Concerned with safety, some Silicon Valley residents want self-driving cars off of their streets.