According to a report filed over the weekend, The New York Times has claimed that Microsoft is implicitly working with the Russian government to thwart dissidents in that country. The report is based on interviews and a review of law enforcement documents and was apparently launched in the wake of complaints by various human rights groups. Microsoft's defense: It has never initiated investigations into Russian dissidents and has done only what was required of it under Russian law.
That response follows along the lines of similar statements by CEO Steve Ballmer and other executives in recent complaints about the company working with China, another huge market where the software giant is willing to forego moral niceties in order to secure business. But there's a darker side to this particular story: Human rights groups in Russia have been asking Microsoft to stop colluding with the government there for years. Earlier this year, the Moscow Helsinki Group sent a formal letter to the company claiming it was complicit in "the persecution of civil society activists."
That letter, no doubt, is what prompted the New York Times investigation. According to the paper, the Russian government launches bogus raids on suspected dissidents by claiming that the organizations are using pirated Microsoft software. That these people are using pirated software is beside the point, although piracy is rampant in Russia. The country is purposefully targeting dissidents in these raids and using the piracy charges as a front to gain access to their computers and halt their operations.
So, what's Microsoft's connection to these activities? According to The New York Times, Microsoft lawyers often kick-started investigations of dissidents by filing claims of piracy. And in cases where accused dissidents were able to prove that they had legally purchased Microsoft's software—in one case, admittedly, solely to prevent this kind of action—Microsoft has declined to drop the charges, allowing the Russian government to continue its investigations.
The charges against Microsoft, thus, amount to the software giant not doing the right thing from a moral standpoint. But that's hardly a business concern, and those who believe that Microsoft won't do what it needs to do to keep the Russia market open don't understand the concerns of such a multinational corporation. Microsoft has worked in a similarly despicable fashion with the authoritarian Chinese government, as well.
The company claims that it has assisted the authorities only as required by Russian law, though it is now looking into "tightening" its legal affairs in the country. "We take the concerns that have been raised very seriously," Microsoft Director of Public Affairs Kevin Kutz said in a statement. "We have to protect our products from piracy, but we also have a commitment to respect fundamental human rights. Microsoft antipiracy efforts are designed to honor both objectives, but we are open to feedback on what we can do to improve in that regard."