Microsoft has been involved in a low-level controversy around their $480 million contract to supply an augmented reality headset to the US Military to “increased lethality, mobility and situational awareness” in combat.
The reason it has been a low-level issue is that Microsoft has been standing very firm on the issue and has declined to engage with the anonymous internal protestors who complain that Microsoft has never before been directly involved in weapons development.
Today Satya Nadella re-iterated their position and added a somewhat political twist.
At MWC 2019 he told CNN “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.”
“We were very transparent about that decision and we’ll continue to have that dialogue [with employees],” he added during the exclusive interview.
“It’s not about taking arbitrary action by a single company, it’s not about 50 people or 100 people or even 100,000 people in a company,” he said. “It’s really about being a responsible corporate citizen in a democracy.”
Nadella’s statement, while in line with previous positions, does raise some questions. Given that Microsoft is a multi-national company, is he talking about the USA, or democratic governments in general? Does this mean for example Microsoft is willing to not supply some technology to China, but will to Taiwan? And if it is US specific, can democratic governments in Europe for example trust Microsoft not to act as an agent of the US government, much like Huawei is accused of doing for China.
As disgruntled employees are discovering, Microsoft’s clear position of serving US Military interests is difficult to argue with, but as usual, an un-nuanced, black and white position raises more questions than it answers.