Channel Watch

Two Years After Snowden, Microsoft Enlists Partners in Trust Fight

This summer, Microsoft gave its first substantial partner-focused response to the PRISM leaks of 2013.

As Microsoft's biggest sales force, partners are Redmond's main representatives to customers in business, government and education.

That's why it's been surprising in the wake of the revelations sparked by Edward Snowden that Microsoft hadn't responded by offering a consistent counter-narrative for partners. The lack was most notable at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in 2013, just a few weeks after the first wave of leaked documents implicated Microsoft for allegedly cooperating in a sweeping U.S. government data collection program called PRISM.

Instead, partners were treated to cracks that year about customers getting "Scroogled" by Google sharing their data with advertisers. Those jokes were unintentionally ironic at a time when news accounts worldwide suggested Microsoft and Google, among others, were allowing the U.S. National Security Agency apparently unfettered access to customer data. Even with a full year to process the NSA revelations, Microsoft's response hadn't filtered down to partners by the 2014 WPC.

This year, at last, Microsoft crafted a serious message for the channel. Chosen to deliver it was first-time WPC presenter Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel and the executive most responsible for Microsoft's strategy on the issues involved.

In a compelling talk (see the video below) complete with "Bourne Identity"-style map zooms to major cities around the globe, Smith did a credible job of presenting the unique blend of tensions that Microsoft faces from its various customer constituencies. He revealed details of a Brazilian government raid on a Microsoft executive's apartment in Sao Paolo in an unsuccessful attempt to seize Skype data earlier this year. He trumpeted Microsoft's participation in helping law enforcement track the Charlie Hebdo attackers. He highlighted partnering with Google to distribute "The Interview" online as an effort to uphold the principle of free expression.

While acknowledging the government's responsibility to collect certain information, Smith also showed some fight. Listing a set of investments and commitments related to "putting trust at the core of technology," Smith declared, "We're also backing these commitments around the cloud with our legal resources, as well. It's why we have sued our own government, the United States government, not just once, but three times over the last two years."

The audience at the WPC, which is split about 50-50 between U.S. and non-U.S. partners, responded enthusiastically to Smith's message. He encouraged them to spread it.

"Let our customers know what we're doing. Let them know the kind of concrete steps that we are taking to protect their security, to respect their privacy and ensure that they're in control, to put in place the right kinds of steps to protect legal and regulatory compliance and, perhaps most of all, to ensure that they know what is happening with their own information," Smith said. "I hope that you'll take the message to governments, as well."

For the last two years, partners had little help from Microsoft as they endured conversations with customers who were jaded by what they had learned from the Snowden documents. Now Microsoft is equipping partners with official messaging on the critical new questions of privacy and security.

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About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.