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Microsoft President Brad Smith: 'We Want to Sustain People's Trust'

By promoting Brad Smith to president and chief legal officer last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella elevated the company's signal that ensuring trust and privacy is a top and ongoing priority. Equally critical are Microsoft's longstanding desire to ensure digital equality and sustaining the environment – both of which Smith has emphasized.

As Microsoft's general counsel and executive VP for legal affairs, Smith, 56, who joined Microsoft in 1993, has become even more visible lately. This year Smith gave well-received keynotes at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco back in April and more recently in July at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando. Late last month Smith spent nearly an hour meeting with a handful of journalists visiting the Microsoft campus in Redmond, where he emphasized the importance of regaining customer trust more than two years after Edward Snowden's revelation of the NSA's surveillance programs including PRISM.

"I think it's sort of self-evident that trust was shattered two years ago, when the world started to learn what Edward Snowden knew and obviously shared," Smith told us. "Where the cloud is going, where computing is going and just where people are going, trust is an imperative. You don't have to be a lawyer to appreciate what the Supreme Court captured in its decision a few months ago when they said they're putting their lives on the devices.  When you're put your lives on the device, you're putting your lives in the cloud, all of the personal information about you. This is as true for the future of enterprises, as it is for the future of people. So as we often say around here, look people won't use technology they don't trust, and therefore it's just an imperative for us as a company to ensure we put trust in our technology."

That's one reason why Microsoft is challenging a court order insisting Microsoft turn over the emails stored in its Dublin datacenter of a customer suspected in an alleged drug-related matter (oral arguments in that challenge kicked off last week).

"The facts for this are pretty straightforward, the U.S. government served on us a warrant to get the email contents of a customer who is not in the United States, and the email exists and resides in our datacenter in Ireland," Smith said. "Our proposition has been 'hey come on, for 250 years one principal was clear, search warrants reached to the border, they don't reach across the border, police can't take a search warrant unilaterally and search any other country, they have to go through law enforcement in the other country. There there are treaties that exist for this purpose.'"

Regaining customer trust in wake of the Snowden revelations is critical to Microsoft's success as it transitions into a cloud services company focused on mobility, Smith emphasized in our meeting last month.

"If we want to be a successful kind of services company and we want to sustain people's trust, we really need to have a coherent and proactive strategy for how we're going to do this," Smith said. "We want our customers around the world, to be able to make use of the technology we created. We can't do that unless we have an effective regulatory plan, that then manifests itself in engineering features and specifications, and that's what we've sought to do. Ultimately it's forced us to focus very hard on what it is that we've seen them for, what is it that we want customers to know that we stand for."

That has led to the four cloud metrics Microsoft has defined and I'll paraphrase here:

  • Microsoft will ensure data is protected from any attack.
  • Customers own and control their data.
  • With its legal team, Microsoft will make sure your data is managed in accordance with the law.
  • Commitment to transparency. "You will know what we are doing with your data, Smith said.

Microsoft is also committed to supporting advanced encryption, according to Smith. "Encryption plays a vital role," he said. "It is the most important technology for safeguarding people's privacy and protecting their security. So you will see us and others deploying stronger encryption, across services and devices and identifying new ways to do it on an end-to-end basis."

That may mean architecting services that ensure Microsoft and others can't mine data from offerings such as Cortana, he noted.

Smith has a lot of credibility and has generated goodwill in the industry. By making Smith president, it appears Nadella wants to take that even further.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/14/2015 at 10:57 AM


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