While putting together the MSLinux Index,
I became interested in whether high-tech companies like Microsoft, IBM, and
HP have well-defined corporate ethics policies.
Searching Microsoft for the word "Ethics" in August 1999 found many
entries in an online encyclopedia,
pages about the ethics of software retailers, consultants,
VAR's, doctors, font designers, students, or the Department of Justice,
but there appeared to be no pages about an ethics policy for Microsoft itself.
(I emailed their PR agency; they assured me Microsoft did have an ethics policy,
asked me why I thought it should be on the web, and said they'd look into it.)
My favorite hit was Developing a Code of Ethics for Your VAP Business, which says:
For your convenience, we've reproduced the
[code of ethics]...
The IEEE/ACM code reads in part:
Here are some guidelines to consider when you develop your own code of conduct:
Develop your code for the right reasons. Research just published by
Arthur Andersen's Ethics and Responsible Business Practices group shows
that when a company develops an ethical code for the wrong reasons-i.e.,
simply to boost sales or avoid lawsuits-ethical standards throughout the
organization actually drop. The right reasons to develop an ethical code
include a desire to be a better member of the community, and to offer
improved customer service.
Be fair and avoid deception in all statements, particularly public
ones, concerning software or related documents, methods and tools.
Microsoft does seem to be aware of the issue of corporate ethics
with respect to itself; according to Heise Online,
they recently surveyed German journalists, asking them how much
they agreed with statements like "Microsoft stands for high ethical standards".
(No word on the survey results.)
On the eve of the close of the 1999 antitrust trial, a lawyer for Microsoft was
quoted on CNET as saying
"Even a monopoly is free to compete aggressively. I read in the press how
Microsoft isn't contrite. We're not going to church here. It's not confession.
Microsoft - 21 Sept 1999
Microsoft's PR agency called me back with a URL:
It reads in part:
Integrity: Our managers and employees must always act with the utmost integrity, and
be guided by what is ethical and right for our customers. We compete vigorously and
Last Updated: September 16, 1999
Microsoft - 5 October 1999
In the case of United States vs. Microsoft, the judge published
detailed findings describing anticompetitive actions by Microsoft.
Here is an excerpt of those findings covering Java.
The judge seems to feel that Microsoft competed unfairly, if not unethically.
The excerpt ends with the line
The ultimate result is that some innovations that would truly benefit
consumers never occur for the sole reason that they do not coincide with
Microsoft - June 2000
The pro-business, Republican judge in the Microsoft antitrust trial explained his ruling, saying
in a June, 2000 interview
"if someone lies to you once, how much else can you credit as the truth?'"
Microsoft - June 2002
Microsoft updated www.microsoft.com/mscorp/values.htm; it now
It no longer contains the text 'Integrity: ... We compete vigorously and fairly.' quoted above.
Instead, it says
Great People with Great Values
(It says it was last updated 6 June 2002.)
Delivering on our mission requires great people who are bright, creative and energetic, and who share the following values:
- Integrity and honesty
- Passion for customers, partners, and technology
- Open and respectful with others and dedicated to making them better
- Willingness to take on big challenges and see them through
- Self critical, questioning and committed to personal excellence and self improvement
- Accountable for commitments, results, and quality to customers, shareholders, partners and employees
Microsoft - August 2006
now is a redirect to
http://www.microsoft.com/about/default.mspx. This no longer contains the text above; instead, it
As a company, and as individuals, we value integrity, honesty,
openness, personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, continual
self-improvement, and mutual respect. We are committed to our customers
and partners and have a passion for technology. We take on big challenges,
and pride ourselves on seeing them through. We hold ourselves accountable
to our customers, shareholders, partners, and employees by honoring our
commitments, providing results, and striving for the highest quality.
The text previously at www.microsoft.com/mscorp/values.htm appears to have migrated to
Microsoft Standards of Business Conduct, which says
Great People with Great Values
followed by a bulleted list identical to the earlier one.
Our values guide our behaviors and must shine through in all our
interactions with each other and our stakeholders. Microsoft employees
are great people who share the following values:
The site MicrosoftIntegrity.com appears to an internal site aimed at Microsoft employees,
created for Microsoft's Office of Legal Compliance.
On 12 July 2006, the EU announced they were fining Microsoft 1.5 million Euros per day
for not complying with the EU's 2004 antitrust decision.
On 19 July 2006, Amnesty International
released a report titled "Undermining Freedom of Expression in China"
criticizing Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft for cooperating
with repressive actions by the Chinese government.
news.com has some coverage of reactions by the three companies to the report.
On 21 July 2006, Microsoft announced Windows Principles:
Twelve Tenets to Promote Competition.
So far, they have only been published in Microsoft's press release area,
and have not been incorporated into Microsoft's code of ethics.
There are several references at Microsoft.com to codes of ethics
for its partners, but the codes only cover software piracy. For instance:
Microsoft Office 2003 Sales Rep Bonus Program (which says
"Piracy Requirements: Payment of bonuses is conditioned on
the VAR complying with the Sales Representative Code of Ethics",
which says that the VAR will not sell pirated software), and
Partner Program (which offers system builders volume-based rebates
if they sign a Code of Ethics which only
covers software piracy.)
Microsoft and ethics in the press
There are a handful of articles about Microsoft and ethics out there, e.g.
There are also several web sites devoted to Microsoft issues, e.g.
the straightforwardly anti-Microsoft
YAMOO! and the
straightforwardly pro-Microsoft Committee for the Moral Defense of Microsoft.
- LinuxWorld's story about how MSN detected
competing browsers, and sent bad HTML to make them look bad
- ZDNet's story about the Bristol Technology suit
against Microsoft, in which a federal judge found that Microsoft Corp. engaged in "wanton, reckless" and deceptive business practices.
- Motley Fool's November 1999 summary
of the market's reaction to the judge's Findings of Fact in the antitrust trial
includes a summary of Slate's own coverage of Gates' testimony in the trial.
- According to a November 1999 article in ZDNet,
Microsoft's strenous lobbying is raising eyebrows.
Their attempt to cut the Justice Department's funding
was viewed by some as retaliation and possibly even
obstruction of justice.
an account in LinuxToday,
Microsoft seems to have used email addresses from
the Linux Counter without permission
for market research purposes, possibly breaking the law in the process.
They later apologized, and said the data they had collected would be destroyed.
Details in German at www.blackserver.at/linux. (Sept 1999)
- "Is MS Preening in Public Posts?", Wired, February 1999
- "Microsoft defense suffers bombshell over error", Infoworld, February 1999
- Joe Barr's commentary on an incident involving a Microsoft employee posing as somebody else, 1994
- An anonymous Usenet post
from 1997 summarizing Microsoft's objectionable business practices in some detail, with references
- "Unsealed Caldera files detail MS evidence-shredding claims", in The Register, 1 Feb 2000.
- Microsoft ad pulled by ASA in IT Web, March 2003. Microsoft tried to claim its software made hackers obsolete, but its ad was declared misleading by the Advertising Standards Agency.
- The Innovators' Ball, or, "Why Business Isn't as Fun as it Used to be", by Robert X. Cringely (Sept 2003)
Searching IBM for ethics
found references to the idea of being a good corporate citizen,
and to a "strict code of ethics" monitored by the
"IBM Professional Practices Committee", although neither are defined online.
Searching HP for ethics actually finds a document defining
"The HP Way",
which reads in part:
We conduct our business with uncompromising integrity.
HP employees are expected to be open and honest in their dealings to
earn trust and loyalty of others. Every employee adheres to the
highest standards of business ethics and understands that anything
less is unacceptable. This is something that is an integral part of our
organization, a deeply ingrained tradition that is passed from one
generation to another.
Online Resources about Business Ethics
While we're talking about ethics...
As has been noted in Salon.com ,
it's hard for technology journalists to avoid owning stock in technology
companies, and the only sensible way to deal with it is full disclosure.
To that end, I should note that I was one of the folks included in
Red Hat's stock brouhaha; I and several thousand other open source
developers were allowed to purchase about 400 shares each of Red Hat stock
at the IPO.
However, my friends at Microsoft can testify that I have not changed my
views since becoming an investor.
I also own shares of Cendant and AMD, among others.
(And as of late 2003, I own options in Google.)
Copyright 1999-2006 Dan Kegel
Last updated: 5 Aug 2006
[Return to www.kegel.com]