Streetwise Professor

September 14, 2010

Another Reason to Buy A Mac?

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:23 pm

A brutal article in the NYT accuses Microsoft of aiding in Russian government efforts to attack NGOs.  Russian “law enforcement” routinely raids NGO offices and seizes computers on the pretext that these computers contain pirated MS software.  The article contains allegations by some of those who have been victimized that Microsoft is the instigator of these raids, and that the company actively encourages the crackdown.  In the article, Microsoft denies that it prodded police to act, and claims that under Russian law it must participate in the actions.

Today the company released a sort-of-mea-culpa.  It’s general counsel doesn’t admit to any specific wrongdoing, but makes statements that could be interpreted as supporting the gravamen of the criticism against the company, e.g.:

We must accept responsibility and assume accountability for our anti-piracy work, including the good and the bad.  At this point some of the specific facts are less clear than we would like.

And what would the bad be, exactly?

An interesting aspect of the MS letter is that in multiple places it suggests that third parties are impersonating Microsoft attorneys:

Finally, we will undertake new steps to protect against third parties pretending to represent Microsoft in order to extort money for illegal software use. Our team in Russia had already started work to address this by creating a list on the web of our authorized counsel, so that anyone can review this and readily check someone’s claim that they represent Microsoft.  This is a good step, but we can and should do more.  For that reason, I’ve asked our team to develop a new program that can begin functioning next month, and I’ve told them that we’ll provide the budget and resources needed to get this working effectively.

If the real problem is that impersonators are instigating investigations, there is absolutely nothing, nothing, that Microsoft can do to address it.  Presumably, the security structures want to bust some NGO that is causing problems.  They need a pretext.  So they could have some guy say that he is a Microsoft representative, and that the NGO has pirated software.  He could be Donald Duck or Joey Ramone or some guy off the street paid in vodka to play the part.  Once they have their pretext, the cops can bust in, seize the computers, and it doesn’t matter a whit how loudly Microsoft howls that its people weren’t involved.  In fact, the real Microsoft lawyers would have to be careful, lest they wind up like Magnitsky.  As the NYT article shows, whether the prosecution goes anywhere is immaterial.  The raid itself is enough to impose a huge toll on the NGO, and impair its ability to operate.

In this regard, it should be noted that Microsoft’s letter specifically links pretenders with extortion efforts, not law enforcement raids on NGOs.  This is a crucial difference.  If pretenders are just extorting, then the allegations in the NYT article that Microsoft lawyers are facilitating police actions against NGOs cannot be blamed on pretenders imitating Microsoft lawyers in order to provide a pretext for a raid on an NGO.

But regardless, Microsoft has to come clean, and reveal exactly what its people have done.  If it has evidence that “third parties” impersonating MS people are involved in law enforcement raids on NGOs it should disclose specifics.  It should explain its detail its involvement in every of the incidents described in the article, and every other incident of which it has knowledge.

It would also be worthwhile for the company to disclose its involvement in all prosecutions for software piracy, and whatever information it has about software piracy arrests and prosecutions in Russia.  Specifically, any information in its possession about the breakdown in legal actions undertaken by Russian authorities by type of target would be quite useful.  How many of those investigated/raided/arrested/prosecuted were for profit businesses?  How many were NGOs?  How many were newspapers?  How many were government offices?  (I’m such a card.)  Any imbalance would be quite revealing.

And by the way: this post was created on a Mac.

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  1. I can’t remember if I posted this comment already some time ago, but I with the President of Microsoft Russia in 2004. Apparently one of their biggest problems with combating software privacy was that the Ministry of Justice was one of the biggest offenders. Gee, imagine that.

    NGO’s aren’t the only places targeted. Any source of suspicion, competition, or grudge can start a witch hunt like this. My American friend’s for-profit business was raided, due, he thinks, to a former disgruntled employee trying to stir the pot. (no proof, but the timing and circumstances around it made it plausible) This completely disrupted his operations, but fortunately, they did not take the computers off the premises. In the end, the lead investigator (or whoever he was) had to confess to my friend that this raid had the cleanest results he had ever seen… by far. My American friend was smart (and ethical), so he actually paid for everything, but he still suffered a huge inconvenience.

    I don’t know what the rate of guilt has been for these NGO’s, but my bet is that they are cleaner on average than anyone else since they are potential targets. If Russia were really serious about battling software privacy, all they would have to do is choose any city block in the country and knock on every door. That would keep them plenty busy.

    Lastly, large foreign companies are extraordinarily vigilant about software privacy in Russia. Primarily, they do this because it is standard practice in their home countries, but secondarily, they know they can be picked on by government authorities endlessly if they have a violation of any type. This is all phoney-baloney politics and everyone knows it.

    Honestly, I do think there is some genuine effort to stem the tide of piracy there, but unfortunately, it is half-hearted, inconsistent, and frequently opportunistic.

    Comment by Howard Roark — September 14, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

  2. I MET with the President of Microsoft Russia. Grrr…

    Comment by Howard Roark — September 14, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

  3. @Howard. Thanks. I had a vestigial memory of reading that the Ministry of Justice was a major offender, but I couldn’t recall where I’d read it so I didn’t put it in the post. I probably learned from one of your earlier comments 🙂 Sorry if I didn’t remember. Thanks for the information. Very useful.

    Just another example of how the law of Russia is too often used to bludgeon the innocent for malign reasons, rather than to prosecute the truly criminal. Every law is just another extortion opportunity. When Russia was lawless, the mafias exploited the anarchy to extort. Now those days are gone, and the “law enforcement” structures exploit the “law” to extort; sometimes the reasons for the extortion are economic, other times political. Is there really much of a difference between the rule of private mafias and the rule of public ones?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 14, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

  4. Buying a Mac won’t help. AFAIR, there were cases when MS lawyers testified there was pirated MS software on computers that were later proved not to have been examined at all. Which means that people who “don’t know their place” in Putin’s Russia will be prosecuted for pirated MS software even if they use Linux.

    Comment by Ivan — September 15, 2010 @ 12:34 am

  5. Or maybe those were people posing as MS lawyers, as Microsoft’s reaction suggests. The difference is as immaterial as the difference between Windows and OS X, when it comes to faking a legal procedure in Russia.

    Comment by Ivan — September 15, 2010 @ 12:46 am

  6. A Mac is great for those who enjoy high priced medium-quality products, closed proprietary systems, and the glitter of businessman celebrities.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 15, 2010 @ 12:52 am

  7. In a way, Macs are just as over-hyped as Western “freedom”.
    Read it and weep!
    (Of course, it’s only authoritarianism when it happens in Russia, though!)

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 15, 2010 @ 4:12 am

  8. Steve Jobs is the Devil incarnate. The hardware aesthetics are unsurpassed, alas. How they say… the Devil is attractive.

    Sent from my Mac.

    Comment by So? — September 15, 2010 @ 4:15 am

  9. Lastly, large foreign companies are extraordinarily vigilant about software privacy in Russia.

    Yup. One of the first things I did on assuming the reigns of a British company in Russia in September 2006 was remove all the knock-off software and buy legitimate disks. MS probably wouldn’t bother chasing individuals, but companies could get hammered.

    Comment by Tim Newman — September 16, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  10. The so called NGO’s get a lot of money from Western governments, do the have the need to use pirated software? I guess not, but I am not surprised that they are doing it. After all Yashin had been caught offering bribes.

    Comment by Leos Tomicek — September 16, 2010 @ 10:50 am

  11. Isn’t it sad that Russia, supposedly a country full of brilliant computer geniuses, can’t market a single attractive computer product that can even remotely rival either Gates or Jobs?

    Dare you imagine the types of products made by Russian sectors that even Russians themselves freely admit are populated by idiots?

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 16, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  12. Here’s yet another hilarious example of Russian technological incompetance:

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 18, 2010 @ 11:48 am

  13. […] raids on advocacy groups by the Russian security services – at Oleg Kozlovsky’s English Weblog, Streetwise Professor, and Robert Amsterdam's […]

    Pingback by Global Voices in English » Russia: Microsoft and Suppression of Dissent — September 23, 2010 @ 7:36 am

  14. […] raids on advocacy groups by the Russian security services – at Oleg Kozlovsky’s English Weblog, Streetwise Professor, and Robert Amsterdam's […]

    Pingback by Official Russia | Russia: Microsoft and Suppression of Dissent — September 23, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

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