While the younger tech enthusiasts among us may not remember, Microsoft's spat with the government over alleged antitrust violations was quite the news story at the turn of the century. Steve Ballmer - who is perhaps best known for his boisterous personality - was also the man leading Microsoft during this sombre time, and he has a few words of advice for other tech giants.
The former CEO cautioned Facebook and Google against the dangers of challenging regulatory authorities, and advised them to refrain from following in Microsoft's footsteps. In the 2001 case, Microsoft founder Bill Gates' testimony was widely considered to be 'evasive and nonresponsive', and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has received similar criticism about his appearances in front of Congress.
Ballmer expressed his regret at opting for a more combative stance against the government and said,
"And knowing what I know now, I would have resolved the issues.
I think we should have figured out how to settle matters out earlier than we did. I do not think it was helpful for our company, the path we took. I think the tech industry right now […] could well repeat that experience.
I think fully accepting that things are not the way they need to be, and going to work on those issues in a way that people believe you are serious about, as opposed to the tech industry generally appearing arrogant, I understand that.”
While Facebook is perhaps the company drawing the most scrutiny in political circles following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the proliferation of fake news on its platform, the tech world as a whole is increasingly drawing the ire of regulatory bodies around the world. Google has long been the subject of various antitrust allegations, while Amazon has also come under scrutiny in recent days over the wages it pays to its workers. Tech giants are also facing internal and external criticism regarding their relationship with governmental agencies, and the role they may play in enabling unpopular policies.
Ballmer cautioned against politicising the regulation of the tech industry too much by handing over the reins to Congress, but did suggest that various regulatory bodies should be able to come in and set some ground rules about how the tech world needs to operate.