Microsoft has selected a law firm to review its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies, the company’s board announced on Thursday, after shareholders raised alarms about how Microsoft and Bill Gates, one of its founders, had treated employees, especially women.
The board said it had chosen Arent Fox, based in Washington, D.C. Microsoft said the firm had never done employment-related work for it in the past.
Shareholders passed a resolution during the company’s 2021 annual meeting to review the policies Microsoft has in place for its employees to protect them against abuse and unwanted sexual advances.
The resolution passed with support from almost 78 percent of Microsoft’s shareholders. It was the only of five proposals on ethical issues put forth by shareholders to succeed. Others, like a call for a report on race- and gender-based pay gaps at the company and a pledge to prohibit sales of facial recognition to government entities, failed.
“Microsoft is under intense public scrutiny due to numerous claims of sexual harassment and an alleged failure to address them adequately and transparently,” the text of the resolution said. “Reports of Bill Gates’s inappropriate relationships and sexual advances toward Microsoft employees have only exacerbated concerns, putting in question the culture set by top leadership and the board’s role holding those culpable accountable.”
Mr. Gates solicited at least two employees while he was running Microsoft, according to reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In one incident, in 2007, Mr. Gates sat through a presentation by a Microsoft employee, then immediately emailed her to ask for a date. Microsoft leaders later warned Mr. Gates not to do things like that. In 2019, Microsoft’s board received a letter from an engineer claiming to have had a sexual relationship with Mr. Gates in 2000. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gates confirmed that the two had had an affair that “ended amicably.”
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in a statement on Thursday that workplace culture was Microsoft’s “No. 1 priority.”
“We’re committed not just to reviewing the report but learning from the assessment so we can continue to improve the experiences of our employees,” he said.
Karen Weise contributed reporting.
Cryptocurrency Enthusiasts Meet Their Match: Angry Gamers
So far, 10,000 digital wallets — tools that allow people to store their crypto assets — have been connected to the Quartz platform, even though Ubisoft minted just 3,000 NFTs in its first batch, Mr. Pouard said. That suggested an appetite for more NFTs in the future, he said.
A Guide to Cryptocurrency
Ubisoft eventually plans to take a cut of sales of future NFTs, Mr. Pouard added. “We’re moving from a business model focused on just a game to a business model focused on an ecosystem in which every player can be a stakeholder,” he said.
Zynga, which is set to be acquired by Take-Two, hired Mr. Wolf, a games industry veteran, to lead a crypto effort in November. The goal was to create new games on the blockchain, making it easy for players to acquire, own and sell NFTs, Mr. Wolf said. He provided few details about how the effort would work, including whether the NFTs could be transferred between Zynga games.
“We’re still developing all that,” he said.
Other game companies have waded into NFTs, echoing how crypto can generate new wealth for users. This month, Yosuke Matsuda, Square Enix’s president, wrote in an open letter that creating blockchain games would allow players to make money. That would become “a major strategic theme” for the company, he said.
But as the number of NFT announcements from game studios piled up, players became increasingly annoyed. After users rebelled against Sega Sammy’s crypto plans, one of its executives said in a management meeting last month, “If it is perceived as simple moneymaking, I would like to make a decision not to proceed.” (The effort is continuing.)
Other game companies have come out against crypto. Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox, told Axios in November that some games centered on earning money through NFTs appeared “exploitative” and he would avoid putting them in the Xbox store. Microsoft declined to comment.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai Signed Off on Deal at Center of Antitrust Case, States Say
Google’s chief executive approved an agreement with Facebook at the heart of an antitrust lawsuit that 16 states and Puerto Rico have lodged against the search giant, according to a portion of the complaint revealed on Friday.
The lawsuit, led by the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, argues that Google has obtained and abused a monopoly over the network of technology used to deliver ads online.
When publishers started using an alternative system for selling their ad space, Google worked to undermine it by creating a similar system that it controlled, according to the lawsuit. The states argue that Google reached a deal with Facebook to have the social network join its effort in an effort to “kill” the publishers’ competing plan.
In the newly unredacted portion of the lawsuit, filed in federal court, the states said Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive since 2015, “also personally signed off on the terms of the deal.”
The newly visible parts of the lawsuit also include details of programs that the states say Google used to mislead buyers and sellers of ad space about the precise nature of the auctions they were participating in, allowing Google to make more money in the process.
A Google spokesman said the complaint was “still full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit.”
“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require C.E.O. approval, and this was no different,” the spokesman said.
In another newly public portion, the states quote a February 2017 “Facebook document” that says that Google wanted to “kill” the competing system and that Facebook “baptizing their product will help significantly.”
At one point, Facebook employees working on the deal emailed Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, saying, “We’re nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward.” Mr. Zuckerberg’s name is still redacted from the lawsuit, but his title is not.
In a statement, a spokesman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said its deal with Google “and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms have helped to increase competition for ad placements.”
The antitrust lawsuit is one of several filed by government agencies against tech giants in the last two years. The Justice Department and a group of states have sued Google arguing that it has abused a monopoly over online search. This week, a judge said the Federal Trade Commission could move forward with a lawsuit against Facebook. Apple and Amazon are also facing antitrust inquiries.
The judge in the case has said Google has until next Friday to respond to the latest version of the lawsuit. Google plans to ask the judge to dismiss the case, its spokesman said.
Nigeria Lifts Twitter Ban
DAKAR, Senegal — The Nigerian government restored access in the country to Twitter on Thursday after a seven-month suspension that was imposed after the social media site deleted a post by Nigeria’s president that threatened a violent crackdown on secessionist groups.
The government blocked access to the site in June, but reversed course on Wednesday after Twitter agreed to several demands. Twitter will establish an office in the country, pay taxes there, appoint a representative and “act with a respectful acknowledgment of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history,” a government official said.
Since the ban came into effect, Nigerians have been able to access the service only using a virtual private network. Twitter’s removal of a post by President Muhammadu Buhari was widely seen as having prompted the government to block the site, but the government official, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said on Wednesday that it was because it had been used “for subversive purposes and criminal activities.”
In the now-deleted tweet, which was aimed at “those misbehaving,” Mr. Buhari said that the government would “treat them in the language they understand,” a message that was widely read as being a reference to the deadly Nigerian civil war. Some interpreted it as a threat of genocide.
In recent years Nigerian lawmakers have introduced several bills that, if passed, would regulate social media, arguing for them on the grounds of security or national unity. Rights groups say these measures — none of which have been approved — could violate international laws protecting freedom of speech.
The human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday night that the Twitter ban had been “illegal,” and described it as an attack on Nigerians’ basic freedoms, including freedom of expression.
Several organizations filed lawsuits against the government over the ban, and the telecommunications companies that enforced it.
In a tweet, Twitter said it was “pleased” that its service had been restored.
“Our mission in Nigeria & around the world, is to serve the public conversation,” the post read. “We are deeply committed to Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation.”
Twitter is far from the most popular social media platform in Nigeria — it is thought to have around three million users there and is ranked behind WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
Nevertheless, it has considerable clout in the country, where it is often used by the elite, and in 2020 was used to organize the biggest anti-government uprising in a generation, staged by young people against police brutality.
The ban may have cost Nigeria’s economy more than $1.4 billion, according to a tool developed by the monitoring organization NetBlocks to calculate the economic effect of internet disruptions, mobile data blackouts or app restrictions. Many Nigerians who used Twitter to promote their businesses have lost revenue.
Beyond the economic consequences, there were also profound societal ones, said Yemi Adamolekun, the executive director of Enough is Enough Nigeria, an organization working for good governance and public accountability.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control had been using Twitter to disseminate information about the spread of the coronavirus, she said. It was a go-to source for Nigerians seeking information about reported cases, deaths and tests. During the ban, the organization’s Twitter account was inactive. Its last tweet was a breakdown of cases by state from June 4.
The organization disseminated information through Facebook, but many Nigerians did not know this, even as the Delta variant was spreading.
“A lot of people didn’t fully get the impact of the Delta variant,” Ms. Adamolekun said, “because they weren’t getting the updates.”