Closing the rural broadband gap is an urgent national crisis| Microsoft on the Issues

Closing the rural broadband gap is an urgent national crisis| Microsoft on the Issues

It’s been clear to us for some time that the digital divide in this country is an urgent national crisis that must be solved. Since 2017, we’ve been working with internet service providers to do just that, through our Airband Initiative, and we’re on track to cover 3 million Americans in unserved rural areas by 2022.

It’s encouraging to see this issue rise in national prominence, through funding from the administration, congressional legislation and most recently new proposals introduced by several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. While there’s been some progress already, solving the broadband gap will require active engagement as well as effective policy proposals from all parts of the public sector.

It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity. People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent...<snip>

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Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism: An update on our progress two years on| Microsoft on the Issues

Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism: An update on our progress two years on| Microsoft on the Issues

The following announcement was jointly written by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft and posted to our respective online properties.

In summer 2017, Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft, and Twitter came together to form the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).

The objective of the GIFCT has always been to substantially disrupt terrorists’ ability to promote terrorism, disseminate violent extremist propaganda, and exploit or glorify real-world acts of violence on our services. We do this by joining forces with counterterrorism experts in government, civil society and the wider industry around the world. Our work centers around three, interrelated strategies:

  • Joint tech innovation
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Conducting and funding research

Today, building on the commitments we made as part of the Christchurch Call to Action, we are adding a fourth pillar to our work that will focus on crisis response. Specifically, we are introducing joint content incident protocols for responding to emerging or active events like the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch, so that relevant information can be quickly and efficiently shared, processed and acted upon by all member companies. We are also releasing our first GIFCT Transparency Report and a new counterspeech campaign toolkit that will help activists and civil society organizations challenge the voices of extremism online.

And as we head into our third year as GIFCT, we are pleased to welcome Pinterest and Dropbox as members. We will continue to add new members, particularly smaller companies that could benefit from the collective experience of GIFCT members.

More than 200,000 unique hashes now in our joint database

When terrorists misuse the internet, they often upload the same piece of content to multiple platforms to maximize their reach. To disrupt this behavior, we jointly developed a shared industry database of “hashes” — or digital fingerprints — that allows us to safely share known terrorist images and video propaganda with partner companies. This enables us to more quickly identify and take action against potential terrorist content on our respective platforms…

First GIFCT Transparency Report

We have heard loud and clear from government and civil society that we need to be more transparent about what we are working on as an industry. As a result, today we are releasing our first-ever GIFCT Transparency Report. The report goes into detail about the GIFCT’s primary work streams, providing greater insight into how the Hash Sharing Consortium has defined terrorist content, and the volume and types of content included in the database. The full transparency report, which is available here, will complement the transparency reports put out by individual GIFCT member companies.

A toolkit to counter violent extremism

When we committed to the Christchurch Call to Action and issued a nine-point plan outlining concrete steps we plan to take as an industry, we said, “We come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.” Never has that commitment been more important. As industry partners, we continue to prioritize and deepen engagement with governments, civil society, and smaller tech companies around the world…

Enabling and empowering companies to respond to crises like Christchurch

Perhaps most importantly, today we are adding a fourth pillar to the GIFCT’s core mission: enabling and empowering companies to respond to crises like Christchurch. The horrific terrorist attack highlighted the importance of close communication between members, and between government and the wider industry, which is why we are introducing joint content incident protocols to enable and empower companies to more quickly and effectively respond to emerging and active events…

We are grateful for the support of and collaboration with governments, international organizations, and NGOs around the world, including the EU Internet Forum and the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate. We look forward to sharing more updates in the coming months.

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Microsoft President Brad Smith email to employees: There is no room for compromise when it comes to ethical business practices | Microsoft on the Issues

Microsoft President Brad Smith email to employees: There is no room for compromise when it comes to ethical business practices | Microsoft on the Issues

Microsoft president Brad Smith sent the following email to all Microsoft employees following announcements by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that they had reached an agreement with Microsoft to settle claims of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

From: Brad Smith

Sent: July 22, 2019

To: Microsoft – All Employees

Subject: There is no room for compromise when it comes to ethical business practices

I’m disappointed to share some news today that I hope we’ll never need to repeat – about the announcement of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle claims of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA.

More specifically, it was announced that our Hungarian subsidiary has entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement, or NPA, with the DOJ and we have agreed to a Cease and Desist Order with the SEC. This follows Microsoft’s cooperation with a multi-year government investigation, reported previously, into potential violations of the FCPA between 2012 and 2015. (An NPA is a public contract between the DOJ and a company in which the company agrees to take certain actions; it does not involve the filing of any charges in court. The SEC Cease and Desist Order similarly is based on an agreement and doesn’t involve a court filing.)…

But it’s even more important that we take the time to learn from this moment, applying some broader lessons that are even more fundamental:

First, today’s settlements involved employee misconduct that was completely unacceptable. We conducted our own investigation and provided complete information to the DOJ and SEC. In Hungary, where the most concerning conduct took place, we fired four Microsoft Hungary employees over three years ago and terminated relationships with four resellers. Some of the resellers responded by complaining to local regulators in an attempt to restore their business and some of the employees responded by suing us. We’re grateful that local courts and regulators have backed up our decision to cut all ties with individuals and businesses that, in our view, behaved in a wholly unethical manner. We’re also grateful that the agreements with both the DOJ and SEC recognize the extent of our cooperation and the DOJ agreed that we deserved the maximum credit allowable for cooperation in determining a monetary penalty…

Second, we appreciate that strong words need to be backed by effective deeds. The first critical step, taken more than five years ago, was to learn from these issues and identify our own opportunities for improvement, especially in the systems and controls that reduce the risk that even a small number of employees and resellers can evade our policies. We’ve learned a lot from the work leading to today’s announcement and have continued to build on these efforts in a way that’s important for the issues in Hungary, as well as in three other countries described by the SEC today, and more globally as well…

Finally, I want to offer some words to each of you – our more than 140,000 Microsoft employees. Satya and every member of the company’s Senior Leadership Team readily recognize that the overwhelming majority of you are committed to doing business ethically and consistently with our high standards. Today’s announcement is a testament in part to the big problems that can be created by a few people. It took misdeeds by only a few people between 2012 and 2015 to lead to today’s $26 million settlement with two government agencies. That entire amount relates to conduct in Hungary, just one of the more than 120 countries in which we do business…

Ethical business conduct will always remain a team sport. We’re grateful for the support you’ve provided for this work around the world, and as we go forward, it’s critical that every individual employee come to work in the morning with the appreciation that you’re both our first and last line of defense.

It’s a never-ending job that deserves our focus and attention each and every day.

Thank you.



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New cyberthreats require new ways to protect democracy

New cyberthreats require new ways to protect democracy
Man and woman look at Microsoft ElectionGuard demos
Microsoft ElectionGuard demos on July 17, 2019 at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. 

With the elections coming up, regardless of who you support, this is vital. I haven’t seen any other major tech company coming up with solutions, though it’s mentioned inside the full blog post.

Starting today at the Aspen Security Forum we’re demonstrating the first voting system running Microsoft ElectionGuard as an example of how ElectionGuard can enable a new era of secure, verifiable voting. The demo shows how it’s also possible to make voting more accessible for people with disabilities and more affordable for local governments while increasing security. Finding new ways to ensure that voters can trust the election process has never been more important. The world’s democracies remain under attack as new data we are sharing today makes clear. ElectionGuard and the range of offerings from Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program, as well as tools from others in the technology industry and academia,  are needed more than ever to help defend democracy.


So the problem is real and unabated. It is time to find solutions. Governments and civil society have important roles to play, but the tech industry also has a responsibility to help defend democracy. As part of our contribution at Microsoft, we believe ElectionGuard will be an important tool to protect the voting process and to ensure that all voters can trust the outcome of free democratic elections.


Our ElectionGuard demo will showcase three core features.


First, people will be able to vote directly on the screen of the Microsoft Surface or using the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which Microsoft originally built in close partnership with organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility. We hope this will help show the community how accessibility hardware can be built securely and inexpensively into primary voting systems and no longer requires separate voting machines to meet the needs of those with disabilities – ultimately making it easier for more people to vote.


Second, people using the demo will be provided with a tracking code that, when voting is complete, they will be able to enter into a website to confirm their vote was counted and not altered; the website will not display their actual votes. In the ElectionGuard software development kit (SDK) this verification feature will be enabled by homomorphic encryption, which allows mathematical procedures – like counting votes – to be done while keeping the data of people’s actual votes fully encrypted. The use of homomorphic encryption in election systems was pioneered by Microsoft Research under the leadership of Senior Cryptographer Josh Benaloh. This tracking code is a key feature of the ElectionGuard technology. For the first time, voters will be able to independently verify with certainty that their vote was counted and not altered. Importantly, in its final form, the ElectionGuard SDK will also enable voting officials, the media, or any third party to use a “verifier” application to similarly confirm that the encrypted vote was properly counted and not altered.


Third, the demo will show how ElectionGuard can enable end-to-end verifiable elections for the first time while retaining the familiarity and certainty of paper ballots. The demo will provide voters with a printed record of their votes, which they can check and place into a physical ballot box, with verification through the web portal serving as a supplemental layer of security and verifiability.


ElectionGuard is free and open-source and will be available through GitHub as an SDK later this summer. This week’s demo is simply one sample of the many ways ElectionGuard can be used to improve voting, and the final SDK will also enable features like Risk Limiting Audits to compare ballots with ballot counts and other post-election audits.


No one solution alone can address cyberattacks from nation-states. As we’ve seen, attackers will take any avenue to gain intelligence and disrupt the democratic process. That’s why Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program has also offered Microsoft 365 for Campaigns and AccountGuard to protect political campaigns, parties and democracy-focused NGOs, and it’s why we’ve partnered with NewsGuard to defend against disinformation.


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As technology like AI propels us into the future, it can also play an important role in preserving our past | Microsoft on the Issues

As technology like AI propels us into the future, it can also play an important role in preserving our past | Microsoft on the Issues

It’s hard to ignore the anxieties and even polarization that one sees in so many places around the world today. The forces of globalization are reshaping our communities in tangible ways. Increasingly, more people voice concerns about their place in society and their cultural identity and heritage. We see this not only in the United States, but across Europe, in Asia and elsewhere.


Our new AI for Cultural Heritage program will use artificial intelligence to work with nonprofits, universities and governments around the world to help preserve the languages we speak, the places we live and the artifacts we treasure. It will build on recent work we’ve pursued using various aspect of AI in each of these areas, such as:


  • Work in New York , where we have collaborated with The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MIT to explore ways in which AI can make The Met’s extensive collection accessible, discoverable and useful to the 3.9 billion internet-connected people worldwide.
  • Work in Paris at the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, where we have partnered with two French companies, HoloForge Interactive and Iconem, to create an entirely new museum experience with mixed reality and AI that paid homage to Mont-Saint-Michel, a French cultural icon off the coast of Normandy.
  • And in southwestern Mexico, where we’re engaged as part of our ongoing efforts to preserve languages around the world to capture and translate Yucatec Maya and Querétaro Otomi using AI to make them more accessible to people around the world.


These projects have given us confidence that we can put AI to innovative uses that can help communities expand access to culture and explore new perspectives and connections through shared experiences. We’ve realized that this work deserves more than a handful of projects. That’s why we’re bringing these efforts together in a more comprehensive program that will explore and pursue new opportunities with institutions around the world.


As with our three other AI for Good Programs — AI for Earth, AI for Accessibility and AI for Humanitarian Action — we look forward to innovating and learning together with individuals and institutions around the world. And we look forward to sharing what we learn with others in the hope that we can all help inspire each other to use the planet’s most advanced technology to help preserve some of the world’s timeless values.


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Statement from Microsoft President Brad Smith on Supreme Court decision to hear DACA cases

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in three consolidated cases concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. One of those is a suit brought by Princeton University, one of its undergraduate students and Microsoft that the federal government’s decision to rescind DACA was unlawful. Microsoft joined the lawsuit based on concern about the decision’s business and humanitarian impacts, including on its employees who are DACA registrants.


“Dreamers make our country, community, and company stronger, and their protection is both a humanitarian obligation and an economic imperative. Today’s decision means the clock is now running, with even more reason for Congress to act,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.


Read more via the Princeton website.


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Helping refugees and displaced persons by shifting the approach to how we help nonprofits

Teenage girl with arm around another girl
Photo credit: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Every year on June 20, World Refugee Day, the world focuses its attention on the growing crisis of human displacement; a mounting global tragedy, as there are more refugees today than any time seen since World War II.

A few months ago, I was humbled by my first visit to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, a United Nations camp that opened in 1992 following the arrival of the 23,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan.” The camp was designed to provide capacity for approximately 70,000 residents and now has nearly 190,000 refugees from more than 20 countries. I was awestruck by the vastness of the camp and inspired by the stories of the refugees and the amazing efforts of humanitarian organizations to create opportunities for them.

International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband
International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband. Photo credit: Kellie Ryan/IRC

Seeing the Kakuma camp opened my eyes to the scale and graveness of today’s refugee crisis. It also reaffirmed my conviction that the world needs to do more to respond.  As International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband writes in his book “Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time ,” “Refugees and displaced people have lost everything. But the refugee crisis is also about ‘us’ – what we, living in far greater comfort, stand for, and how we see our place in the world. It is a test of our character. Pass the test and rescue not just refugees but ourselves.” The challenge is immense with over 70 million refugees and internally displaced people.  At Microsoft we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we do know that in order to do more, we also must shift our lens from a traditional approach of corporate social responsibility, to an approach of total social impact to better support the crucial work of nonprofits.

Our response starts with the commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the United Nations. These are benchmarks that paint the vision that the global community wants to see and what we aspire to, across the government, nonprofit and private sectors. But the world needs more than the goals; it needs the resources to achieve them, and according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group there is a $2.5 trillion dollar annual funding gap across the SDGs. Well-resourced organizations around the world – public and private – will need to do more to make up this gap. Beyond the foundational moral imperative of doing more, there is a strong long-term business case. A recent analysis shows that by meeting the SDG goals, we will unleash an estimated $12 trillion of market opportunities and create 380 million new jobs by 2030.

At Microsoft, we are working to better address this opportunity through our core philanthropic initiatives focused on equipping underserved communities around the world with the digital skills they need to effectively participate in the 21st century economy.  We are also working to amplify the impact of our employee engagement and giving.  However, we are going beyond traditional philanthropic models and creating a social business focused on helping nonprofits access deeper levels of innovation to address social challenges – using our technology and expertise to help humanitarian organizations scale the impact of the workers on front lines, manage and allocate aid, and help populations who need it most. All incremental profits generated from this affordable social business model are then reinvested into philanthropy and innovation for the nonprofit sector. This creates a self-reinforcing flywheel that fuels more impact. By integrating philanthropy with affordably designed social business models we create a total social impact plan that has the ability to scale innovation and impact beyond more traditional approaches.

Outlined below are two examples of how we are leveraging this model to invest in solutions to better support refugees, displaced people, and the communities that host them:

Artificial intelligence to support refugees and displaced people: Last year at the UN General Assembly, Microsoft built on its longstanding support to humanitarian organizations with AI for Humanitarian Action, a $40 million, five-year program. Through AI for Humanitarian Action, we are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the lives of over 70 million displaced people in the world, nearly 26 million of whom are refugees.

As a part of this work, today we are announcing AI for Humanitarian Action projects with two nonprofit organizations, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and KIND, to help combat wrongful deportation of asylum seekers in the United States. Both organizations provide legal assistance to asylum seekers and governments’ current processes are challenging while the cases are time sensitive. ASAP works with approximately 3,000 asylum seekers on any given day connecting them with the tools they need to take control of their legal cases and advocate for their families. Using Microsoft speech-to-text artificial intelligence and an Azure-based database, ASAP and KIND are partnering with volunteers and other legal aid organizations to assist families fleeing persecution in their home countries. The AI tool helps their respective staffs efficiently track changing court dates and prioritize cases most in need of emergency legal services.

Digital skills to empower refugees and displaced people: Refugees and displaced people live lives that are disrupted, often forced from the information and basic resources we sometimes take for granted. Yet, they have tremendous energy and are a force for positive change in the world. That’s why we must use the power of technology to route information, skills and knowledge in better ways to displaced people, using technology channels to provide access to education, and help them pursue a new future. Microsoft is working with a number of organizations providing digital skills, including:

  • International Rescue Committee (IRC) to create sustainable programming for refugees and displaced populations around the world, and increasing the efficiency and efficacy of the IRC staff who serve them. This includes “Digital Skills for New Americans in the U.S.,” and “Technology for Livelihoods in Crisis” in Jordan. These programs are designed to be contextually relevant for refugees and the job markets in these countries to find new ways to empower refugees, including women and girls. Through this partnership with Microsoft, IRC aims to create a foundation for career development programming that will be delivered to 45,000 IRC clients over the next five years in the U.S., and to eventually expand trainings for refugee and displaced clients across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These programs build on deep investments by Microsoft in IRC programs that help IRC provide humanitarian aid and digital skills to crisis-effected communities.
  • Norwegian Refugee Council to deliver education services and solutions to help 400,000 displaced people with digital skills enabling new opportunities.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reach over 25,000 refugee young women and men in Kakuma by 2020 with access to accredited, quality and relevant digital learning and market-oriented training opportunities. The partnership will include training and knowledge sharing with UNHCR international teams and local partners, who will help deliver the content. It’s the first stage of a project we intend to scale across multiple countries.
  • UNICEF to ensure that displaced children and young people have access to the education skills they need, are better prepared to reach their potential and are enabled to be the future leaders our world will need. UNICEF and Microsoft, together with the University of Cambridge, are partnering to develop a digital platform, “The Learning Passport,” that will facilitate learning opportunities for displaced young people within and across borders.

As I reflect on my Kakuma visit, it is a vivid memory for me that lives are at stake. I encourage us all to continue working to think how your organization can make an impact. We must push the boundaries of our traditional philanthropic and business models so that our social impact is proportionate to the power and resources we command. We have an obligation and an opportunity to advance a future for everyone. Together, we can do more.

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