Third, work with regulators rather than try to outwit or overwhelm them. From the start Microsoft designed Azure in such a way that it could accommodate local data-protection laws. Its president and chief legal officer, Brad Smith, has been the source of many policy proposals, such as a “Digital Geneva Convention” to protect people from cyber-attacks by nation-states. He is also behind Microsoft’s comparatively cautious use of artificial intelligence, and calls for oversight of facial recognition. The firm has been relatively untouched by the current backlash against tech firms, and is less vulnerable to new regulation.
True, missing the boat on social media means thorny matters such as content moderation pose greater difficulties for Facebook and Google. Still, others would do well to follow Microsoft’s lead. Apple has championed its customers’ privacy, but its treatment of competitors’ services in its app store may soon land it in antitrust trouble. Facebook and Google have started to recognise that with great power comes great responsibility, but each has yet to find its equivalent of Azure, a new business model beyond its original golden goose. Amazon, in its ambition and culture, most resembles the old Microsoft.