Microsoft wants to improve its business relationship with the Chinese government.
The technology giant said Monday that it plans to open a so-called transparency center in Beijing intended for government tech workers to test and analyze Microsoft products for security.
Scott Charney, Microsoft’s corporate vice president in charge of making sure Microsoft
products comply with security and privacy standards, wrote in a blog post that the new facility would give foreign governments in Asia “the ability to review our products and services, both manually and by running tools, but they cannot alter what is delivered to customers.” The last part, about changing what is delivered to customers, is an important point for Microsoft, which doesn’t want to be seen as a company that would change its products based on government pressure.
Charney did not say what foreign governments would visit the new center or the exact date it would open, only that Microsoft plans to host an event when it does open later in fall.
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The new Beijing center could be controversial to those who worry that by allowing China to inspect U.S. technology products and related software code, China could possibly steal or copy the technology or improve its spying operations. In June, U.S. law enforcement charged a Chinese developer for allegedly stealing source code from IBM and planning to deliver it to a government entity.
In May, the New York Times reported that China has been secretly interrogating U.S. tech companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and Apple in order to learn how these companies’ technology products store data and support encryption. The Chinese government was concerned that the products might pose a risk to national security, the report said.
The new center is Microsoft’s third such facility. Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith first detailed Microsoft’s intentions to build transparency centers in 2013.
Smith wrote at the time that Microsoft intended for the centers to help government customers “review our source code, reassure themselves of its integrity, and confirm there are no back doors.” A back door is a hidden bug or mechanism within a technology product that allows others to spy on users.
In recent years, the Chinese government has voiced concern that several U.S.-based technology companies like Cisco
may have installed so-called back doors into their products based on leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden that exposed U.S. espionage activities.
On the flip-side, Chinese technology giant Huawei wants to aggressively expand its data center server business in the U.S., but many U.S. technology analysts worry that the company may install back doors into its server products.
In May, Microsoft Satya Nadella reportedly visited China to discuss with government officials there an ongoing Chinese anti-trust investigation into Microsoft and allegations that it has engaged monopolistic behavior in the country.
Microsoft also has a transparency center in Redmond, Wash. and in Brussels, Belgium.
At the time Microsoft opened its Brussels transparency center in 2015, former Microsoft vice president of security for cloud and enterprise Matt Thomlinson wrote that the Belgium office would “give governments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa a convenient location to experience our commitment to transparency and delivering products and services that are secure by principle and by design.”