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Microsoft president: Tech industry must 'step up to the right principles'

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Microsoft (MSFT) President Brad Smith is calling on the tech industry to protect consumers’ data and privacy amid a rash of data leaks and breaches within the last year.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Smith explained how tech companies need to ensure consumers can trust the technologies they use on daily basis.

“First, it’s a time when we all have to recognize that consumers are more wary than they were a year or two ago,” Smith said. “And I think it falls on us in the industry to not only step up to the right principles, but to act.”

To that end, Smith said Microsoft is increasing its privacy protections, and in some cases going above what the law currently requires.

“Some of this we’re doing because of new laws, some of this we’re doing because we need to go beyond the law,” he said.

Smith’s words aren’t simply a means to score easy points with consumers. In fact, Smith has previously called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would regulate the use of Microsoft’s own facial recognition technology to ensure it isn’t abused.

Amazon is also working on its own facial recognition technology, and has been criticized for allowing it to be used within police departments under a pilot program.

“In the cyber security space we’re taking initiative with other companies. It is a set of issues that we think requires more government action by the United States government, but really by governments around the world working together.”

Affordable housing fight

Smith also discussed Microsoft’s recent announcement that it would put $500 million toward affordable housing initiatives in the Seattle area. The bulk of that cash, $475 million, will be issued as loans to build and preserve low- and middle-income housing. The remaining $25 million will come in the form of grants for homeless and housing services.

“It’s a time that calls for companies like ours to step forward and do what we can,” Smith told Serwer. “But it does remain a time where we need governments to do more as well. So it’s a real partnership in Seattle, with 9 cities, with the county, with the state, but I do think we continue to need public leadership at every level of government.”

Microsoft president Brad Smith speaks at the annual Microsoft shareholders meeting Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in Bellevue, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Smith explained the problem in Seattle and other tech hubs around the world by succinctly saying that as high-paying tech jobs have increased in areas, housing stock hasn’t been able to keep pace, which has pushed the price of homes ever higher and forced out low and middle-income residents.

“So we put half a billion dollars forward, mostly to subsidize lending to try to accelerate low- and middle-income housing also to make donations to homelessness and to bring the cities together,” Smith said. “We have nine mayors all championing the kind of policy reforms we think will be needed.”

The Seattle city council had previously passed a tax that large employers like Microsoft, and Amazon (AMZN) would have had to pay to help offset the rise in homelessness in the city. Amazon, Starbucks and other businesses in the city, however, vigorously fought the tax, and it was eventually repealed by the council.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.finance.yahoo.com/