Google, Facebook spend big on U.S. lobbying amid policy battles

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google disclosed in a quarterly filing on Tuesday that it spent a company-record $21.2 million on lobbying the U.S. government in 2018, topping its previous high of $18.22 million in 2012, as the search engine operator fights wide-ranging scrutiny into its practices.

FILE PHOTO – The outside of the Google offices is seen in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

In its filing to Congress on Tuesday, Facebook Inc disclosed that it also spent more on government lobbying in 2018 than it ever had before at $12.62 million. That was up from $11.51 million a year ago, according to tracking by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Google’s spent $18.04 million on lobbying in 2017, according to the center’s data.

Google and Facebook declined to comment beyond their filings.

U.S. lawmakers and regulators have weighed new privacy and antitrust rules to rein in the power of large internet service providers such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. Regulatory backlash in the United States, as well as Europe and Asia, is near the top of the list of concerns for technology investors, according to financial analysts.

Microsoft Corp spent $9.52 million on lobbying in 2018, according to its disclosure on Tuesday, up from $8.5 million in 2017 but below its $10.5 million tab in 2013.

Apple Inc spent $6.62 million last year, compared to its record of $7.15 million in 2017, according to center data going back to 1998.

Apple and Microsoft did not respond to requests to comment. A filing from Amazon was expected later on Tuesday.

Google disclosed that new discussion topics with regulators in the fourth quarter included its search technology, criminal justice reform and international tax reform. The company is perennially among the top spenders on lobbying in Washington along with a few cable operators, defense contractors and healthcare firms.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, who testified in December before a U.S. House of Representatives panel for the first time, has said the company backs the idea of national privacy legislation. But he has contested accusations of the company having a political bias in its search results and of stifling competition.

Susan Molinari, Google’s top U.S. public policy official, stepped down to take on an advisory role this month.

Facebook said discussing “election integrity” with national security officials was among its new lobbying areas in the fourth quarter. The filing said the company continued to lobby the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating its data security practices.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Sonya Hepinstall

Google Is Paying Employees for Six Months of Charity Work

Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has launched a new program that will pay its employees to do pro bono work for nonprofit groups for up to six months.

Google announced the new program, called the Google.org Fellowship, on Tuesday. The purpose is to let Google employees take on full-time pro bono work for the organization’s nonprofit partners, which include groups like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Girls Who Code, and Amnesty International.

The company aims to achieve 50,000 hours of pro bono work this year.

The fellowship extends Google’s community service outreach and adds to a growing list of volunteer-based initiatives offered by tech companies. It also helps Google accomplish two goals: aid the community with the company’s expertise—as well as motivate employees and help them sharpen their skills, according to the company’s blog.

The launch of Google’s fellowship came after the company piloted a six-month program in which it sent five Googlers to work with Thorn, a nonprofit founded by Ashton Kutcher that develops technology to protect children from sexual abuse. Through the partnership, Google employees helped build tools to find patterns in data that would assist law enforcement in identifying and locating child victims faster.

Since then, seven Google.org fellows, including software engineers and data scientists, started working with Goodwill Industries International, to which Google.org gave $10 million in 2017. Googlers will help the organization get better insight about what works best in their job training programs.

Prior to this program, Google had already offered employees volunteer hours, though a much smaller number, for community service projects.

Google launched GoogleServe in 2008, aiming to encourage employees to participate in community service projects for a day in June. The program also helps match employees’ skillsets to nonprofits’ needs and allows them to spend up to 20 hours of work time volunteering. Last year, more than 5,000 employees volunteered more than 50,000 hours across 400 project, according to Google’s website.

Along the same lines, Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of business software company Salesforce, has a Pro Bono Program that offers employees 56 hours of paid volunteer time annually. Between the program’s debut in 2014 and October 2017, Salesforce employees had volunteered 166,000 pro bono hours with 5,700 organizations.

Twitter also offers a community service day. The #TwitterForGood Day, a biannual event at the company, gives employees the chance to do community service at partnering organizations.

Apple premiered its employee volunteer program in 2015. The Apple Global Volunteer Program helps employees organize and support organizations and events in their communities. The program offers training and tools to help them create and promote volunteer events.

An Astonishing 773 Million Records Exposed in Monster Breach

There are breaches, and there are megabreaches, and there’s Equifax. But a newly revealed trove of leaked data tops them all for sheer volume: 772,904,991 unique email addresses, over 21 million unique passwords, all recently posted to a hacking forum.

The data set was first reported by security researcher Troy Hunt, who maintains Have I Been Pwned, a way to search whether your own email or password has been compromised by a breach at any point. (Trick question: It has.) The so-called Collection #1 is the largest breach in Hunt’s menagerie, and it’s not particularly close.

The Hack

If anything, the above numbers belie the real volume of the breach, as they reflect Hunt’s effort to clean up the data set to account for duplicates and to strip out unusable bits. In raw form, it comprises 2.7 billion rows of email addresses and passwords, including over a billion unique combinations of email addresses and passwords.

The trove appeared briefly on MEGA, the cloud service, and persisted on what Hunt refers to as “a popular hacking forum.” It sat in a folder called Collection #1, which contained over 12,000 files that weigh in at over 87 gigabytes. While it’s difficult to confirm exactly where all that info came from, it appears to be something of a breach of breaches; that is to say, it claims to aggregate over 2,000 leaked databases that contain passwords whose protective hashing has been cracked.

“It just looks like a completely random collection of sites purely to maximize the number of credentials available to hackers,” Hunt tells WIRED. “There’s no obvious patterns, just maximum exposure.”

That sort of Voltron breach has happened before, but never on this scale. In fact, not only is this the largest breach to become public, it’s second only to Yahoo’s pair of incidents—which affected 1 billion and 3 billion users, respectively—in size. Fortunately, the stolen Yahoo data hasn’t surfaced. Yet.

Who’s Affected?

The accumulated lists seem designed for use in so-called credential-stuffing attacks, in which hackers throw email and password combinations at a given site or service. These are typically automated processes that prey especially on people who reuse passwords across the whole wide internet.

The silver lining in Collection #1 going public is that you can definitively find out if your email and password were among the impacted accounts. Hunt has already loaded them into Have I Been Pwned; just type in your email address and keep those fingers crossed. While you’re there you can also find out how many previous breaches you’ve been a victim of. Whatever password you’re using on those accounts, change it.

Have I Been Pwned also introduced a password-search feature a year and a half ago; you can just type in whatever passwords go with your most sensitive accounts to see if they’re out in the open. If they are, change them.

And while you’re at it, get a password manager. It’s well past time.

How Serious Is This?

Pretty darn serious! While it doesn’t appear to include more sensitive information, like credit card or Social Security numbers, Collection #1 is historic for scale alone. A few elements also make it especially unnerving. First, around 140 million email accounts and over 10 million unique passwords in Collection #1 are new to Hunt’s database, meaning they’re not just duplicates from prior megabreaches.

Then there’s the way in which those passwords are saved in Collection #1. “These are all plain text passwords. If we take a breach like Dropbox, there may have been 68 million unique email addresses in there, but the passwords were cryptographically hashes making them very difficult to use,” says Hunt. Instead, the only technical prowess someone with access to the folders needs to break into your accounts is the ability to scroll and click.

And lastly, Hunt also notes that all of these records were sitting not in some dark web backwater, but on one of the most popular cloud storage sites—until it got taken down—and then on a public hacking site. They weren’t even for sale; they were just available for anyone to take.

The usual advice for protecting yourself applies. Never reuse passwords across multiple sites; it increases your exposure by orders of magnitude. Get a password manager. Have I Been Pwned integrates directly into 1Password—automatically checking all of your passwords against its database—but you’ve got no shortage of good options. Enable app-based two-factor authentication on as many accounts as you can, so that a password isn’t your only line of defense. And if you do find your email address or one of your passwords in Have I Been Pwned, at least know that you’re in good company.


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Verizon deepens ties with Apple, offers free Apple Music to some U.S. customers

FILE PHOTO: An Apple company logo is seen behind tree branches outside an Apple store in Beijing, China December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) said on Tuesday it will include free Apple Music subscriptions in some of its top-tier U.S. data plans, deepening its ties with the iPhone maker.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is increasingly turning for growth to its services segment, which includes businesses such as iCloud storage, Apple Music and the App Store, and has been partnering with rivals in recent months. Two weeks ago, it cut its revenue forecast, blaming iPhone sales in China.

Verizon customers opting for its “Beyond Unlimited” and “Above Unlimited” plans will also get access to free Apple Music from Jan. 17, the U.S. wireless carrier said in a statement vz.to/2RtAiYk.

Last year, Verizon and Apple announced a partnership, giving some customers six months of Apple Music streaming service along with their data plan. The Verizon “Go Unlimited” plan will continue to get a six-month free trial of Apple Music.

Apple in the last few months has made its iTunes service available on some of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s (005930.KS) newer smart televisions and has made Apple Music available on Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Echo smart speakers.

The Cupertino-based firm is facing a saturated global smart phone market and many users are hanging on to their old iPhones longer than ever.

Reporting by Subrat Patnaik and Supriya Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Bracing for a Hazy Robo-Future, Ford and VW Join Forces

Sensor partnerships. Subsidiary acquisitions. Software collaborations. The autonomous driving world is about as incestous a place as Caligula’s palace, and it got a little more so today, when Ford and Volkswagen announced a formal and long-anticipated alliance.

“The alliance we are now building, starting from first formal agreement, will boost both partners’ competitiveness in an era of rapid change,” Herbert Diess, the CEO of Volkswagen, said on a call with reporters. He and Ford CEO Jim Hackett said the partnership—which is not a merger—will begin with the companies jointly developing and building medium-sized pickups and commercial vans, to debut as early as 2022. The automakers said the arrangement should “yield improved annual pre-tax operating results” by 2023. So hopefully, this makes everyone richer.

After that, well, the companies have signed a “memorandum of understanding” to collaborate on electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and mobility services. The shape and details of those partnerships are yet to be determined.

Diess is right about that “rapid change” bit. The automotive industry has shifted remarkably in the last decade, with new vehicle and vehicle-adjacent tech players—Tesla, Waymo, Aurora, Argo AI—injecting fresh blood (and panic) into the business of building cars. Ford and VW seem to believe that banding together will help them not only survive, but thrive.

The companies will need to do that in a world where, eventually, someday, the human driver is obsolete. The path to self-driving domination is not yet clear. What services will automotive manufacturers manage for themselves? Which technologies will they build and own? Ford and VW have spent the last few years toying with different answers to these questions, and by joining forces, each has diversified its AV portfolio. It might be evidence, as automotive writer Pete Bigelow points out, that the companies are making smart, strategic decisions about how to spend their R & D dollars in this confusing, in-between time. Or that they’re flailing. Maybe both.

Both VW and Ford already have (quasi) in-house automated vehicle software teams. VW has built up a 150-person “Autonomous Intelligent Driving” unit as part of its Audi brand, which is building a full AV software stack. (Audi itself has pledged to spend $16 billion on electric and self-driving vehicles through 2023.) And the German automaker is working on self-driving with the AV developer Aurora, which is headed up by self-driving tech veterans.

Ford has a large stake in Pittsburgh-based AV software company Argo AI, whose work is a key element of the automaker’s pledge to have a fully automated robotaxi in operation by 2021. And it has spent time and money boning up on “mobility” tech, purchasing companies like transit software-maker TransLoc, transportation cloud platform Autonomic, (recently killed) shuttle service Chariot, and scooter-share company Spin. It’s trying to figure out how best to connect customers to transportation, and what they’d like to see out of a transportation service, anyway.

It’s not clear yet how these various minglings will affect Ford and VW’s work. Argo AI is involved in the discussions between the companies, but specifics are scarce. “We’re not going to speculate on the details of the advanced discussions that are ongoing,” says Alan Hall, a spokesperson for Ford.

Khobi Brooklyn, a spokesperson for Aurora, did not say what role the company might play in the alliance. “As we continue to build relationships across the transportation ecosystem with providers of vehicles, transportation networks and fleet management operations, we are confident that we will be able to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly,” she wrote in a statement. Aurora has said that it has not ruled out working with other automotive manufacturers on self-driving cars; it also has partnerships with Hyundai and EV startup Byton.

Another element of this “diversification” that should benefit both companies: They get easier access to the others’ regional strengths—and regulatory environments. VW has invested serious money in South America, Africa, and China. But despite a new plan to establish a plant in Tennessee, the German carmaker is weaker in the US, Ford’s home turf. “From Volkswagen’s perspective, it would make a lot of sense to cooperate with an American player given that the regulatory conditions for preparing the breakthrough of autonomous driving are more advanced in the US than they are in Europe,” Diess told reporters. Break out those German-English dictionaries.


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Ockam provides easy to deploy identity, trust, and interoperability for IoT developers

Featured stories

Maybe you’re not going to buy a $7,000 smart toilet, but the Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way to your home and office. Silly gadgets aside, IoT device inventors face many programming challenges. It’s hard adding identity, trust, and interoperability to IoT hardware. The Ockam startup will change this for the better.

Customers want IoT devices to be trustworthy and work with other vendors gear. Programmers know that’s easier said than done. Many IoT vendors’ answer is to not bother to add sufficient security or interoperability to their gadgets. This leads to one IoT security problem after another.

Ockam’s answer is to make it easy to add identity, trust, and interoperability by providing programmers with the open-source, Apache-licensed Ockam Software Developer Kit (SDK). With it, developers can add these important features to their devices without a deep understanding of secure IoT network architecture or cryptographic key identity management.

Also: Internet of Things (IoT): Cheat sheet TechRepublic

This is provided by a Golang library and a Command Line Interface (CLI). Additional languages, features, and tools will be supported in future releases.

Once properly embedded within a device’s firmware, the Ockam SDK enables the device to become an Ockam Blockchain Network (OBN) client. OBN provides a decentralized, open platform with high throughput and low latency. It also provides the infrastructure and protocols underpinning Ockam’s SDK.

Devices are assigned a unique Decentralized ID (DID). The DID is cryptographically secure identities for an array of entities. While used primarily to identify devices, it can also represent people, organizations, or other entities. With this, developers can codify complex graph relationships between people, organizations, devices, and assets.

Once on OBN, devices can can share data as verified claims with any other registered network device. This is secured by Ockam-provided, blockchain-powered Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).  Devices can also verify data that they receive from other registered OBN IoT devices. OBN is free of charge for developers until its general availability release later this year.

This may all sound complex, but the complexities are hidden away behind its serverless architecture: A developer only needs the SDK. OBN’s complications, such as PKI, are abstracted away.

Some of Ockam’s structure may sound familiar. That’s because it’s taking a page from Twilio. Just like Twilio provides a common layer between telecommunications infrastructure and developers, to make it easy to incorporate messaging into applications, Ockam provides a “common rail” for adding secure identify to IoT devices. With a single line of code, Ockam enables developer to provision an immutable identity to a device.

Also: 7 ways to use Alexa around the office CNET

OBN is built on Microsoft Azure confidential compute. Microsoft Engineering is a dedicated technical partner, and Ockam CEO Matthew Gregory led Azure’s open-source software developer platform strategy.

Together, Ockam and OBN provides a backbone for the next generation of high performance IoT ecosystems. Ockam is interoperable and built for multi-party IoT networks. So, in theory, your devices will be able to work with other vendor’s gear.

According to Yorke Rhodes, co-founder of blockchain at Microsoft Azure: “Ockam’s team is best in class, bringing together skills and experience in enterprise, IoT, secure compute, scale-up, and Azure. We are thrilled to be collaborating with them on their innovative solution for the IoT developer community.”

I don’t know about “thrilled,” but I do know if I were building IoT devices, which I want to work and play well and securely with other devices, I’d be working with Ockam. It promises to make high-quality IoT development much easier.

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Lawsuit Claims Google Board Covered Up Sexual Misconduct

A shareholder lawsuit filed Thursday claims that Alphabet’s board of directors, including Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt, covered up sexual harassment by numerous Google executives, including Andy Rubin, whose $90 million exit package was approved by the board after an internal investigation found sexual harassment claims against Rubin credible.

At a press conference in San Francisco, attorneys representing Alphabet shareholder James Martin said that Page and Brin, the company’s cofounders, were among the people directly involved in the cover-up and should compensate shareholders for the value lost when Alphabet shares declined after the payments to Rubin and others were revealed.

The lawsuit is supported by nonpublic evidence, including minutes from Alphabet board meetings in 2014 and 2016, obtained through a shareholder inspection demand. In the public filing, the minutes are heavily redacted, which Google demanded as a condition of providing the documents. But attorney Frank Bottini, managing partner at Bottini & Bottini, said he hopes the judge will unseal the information.

“You won’t believe what’s in these minutes,” Bottini said.

The minutes cover both meetings of the full board, as well as its leadership development and compensation committee, which approved payments to Rubin. The meetings from 2014 concern Rubin, while the 2016 minutes concern Amit Singhal, another Google executive who left after harassment complaints that the company did not publicly acknowledge at the time.

Bottini’s theory is that had Rubin been fired for cause, he would have exposed sexual misconduct allegations against other executives and directors, including Schmidt, the company’s former executive chairman, and David Drummond, its chief legal officer, who were both referenced in an October New York Times investigation, which first reported the $90 million payment to Rubin.

The lawsuit is seeking significant changes to Google’s corporate governance, including allowing non-management shareholders to nominate at least three new board members and changes to the company’s stock structure, which gives Page and Brin a supermajority voting share. The suit also asks that Rubin and others return their severance payments.

The complaint was filed in San Mateo County, California, Superior Court on Thursday. Google and Rubin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The reports of Rubin’s $90 million severance package, and other harassment allegations inside Alphabet, incited a backlash at the company. In November, 20,000 workers in dozens of Google offices around the world walked out to demand better policies, holding signs saying things like “Happy to quit for $90M—no sexual harassment required.”

After the protest, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company would change its policies to allow alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault to file lawsuits, rather than force them into private arbitration. The new policy is limited to individual lawsuits, so class action cases are still restricted. Walkout organizers say the changes fall short of their demands. At the press conference, attorneys said they were also seeking an end to arbitration agreements and non-disclosure agreements that prevent openness and transparency and allow victims to discuss bad conduct without getting fired, demoted, or transferred.


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Get to Know Jeff Bezos’ Almost-Ex, MacKenzie Bezos, Who Could Soon Be One of the World’s Richest Women

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage. While the Amazon founder’s name is well known, the news has left some people wondering, who is MacKenzie Bezos? Who is the wife of the richest man in the world, someone who has led a relatively private life as the partner of the powerful founder and executive?

MacKenzie Bezos was also instrumental in the founding of Amazon in 1994, a year after marrying Jeff in 1993. She was one of the first employees at the online bookseller, according to USA Today. MacKenzie and Jeff were married six months after they first met at Wall Street hedge fund firm D.E. Shaw, where Jeff was a vice president and interviewed MacKenzie. Together, they have four children.

But she is perhaps best known as the author of several novels, including Traps and her debut, The Testing of Luther Albright, which won an American Book Award. She studied at Princeton University and served as a research assistant to famed author Toni Morrison, who called Bezos “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative-writing classes” in a 2013 Vogue profile. And in 2014, she founded an anti-bullying organization, Bystander Revolution.

In 2018, the Bezoses also jointly committed $2 billion of their combined fortune to create the Day One Fund, which will fund a network of preschools in low-income communities as well as support existing nonprofits that assist homeless families.

MacKenzie may also soon be one of the world’s richest women. Jeff Bezos is worth roughly $139 billion, and under communal property laws in Washington State, that could mean each individual Bezos could walk away from the marriage with around $69.5 billion. That would make MacKenzie roughly 26 times richer than Oprah Winfrey and 100 times richer than the Queen of England, according to Marketwatch. She would also end up with some serious real estate holdings, as the Bezoses reportedly own at least five homes around the country.

Jeff Bezos announced the couple’s plan to divorce in a tweet posted Wednesday. MacKenzie Bezos has yet to release her own statement.

5 Key Steps to Convert Your Idea Into a Business

In my role as a new business advisor and occasional investor, I hear lots of people talking about their dreams of “someday” starting and running a new venture.

They can talk with passion about their innovative new idea, and ask lots of questions, but never seem to really get started. The challenge we all have as business founders is to move from the idea stage to a real business.

The solution I recommend is to move forward with a few quantifiable steps, to turn your dreams into specific goals and milestones, and then measure your progress and celebrate each small success in achieving these goals and milestones.

I found these bite-sized chunks to be far more achievable and satisfying than making that one big step from your dream to a success business:

1. Get the idea out of your head and onto paper.

Even if it’s only a few PowerPoint slides or typed paragraphs, writing something down is the first step toward making it real. 

he process will force you solidify the specifics, and mentally commit to them. Always write in the future tense, what you will do, and name yourself as the key person responsible.

Before you know it, you will have a ten-slide pitch that you can use to gauge interest from potential customers, as well as friends, family, and early investors. Suddenly you will find that writing a ten-to-twenty page business plan with details is easy rather than daunting.

2. Create a specific plan to network to get the help you need.

If you need funding, make a list of people you know who might help, and plan to attend specific business events where you can use your pitch and written plan.

Do the same for partners and co-founders that will buttress your strengths. Consult with business peers to learn what you need.

Take the initiative to join recognized new business support groups and the local chapter of relevant industry associations to meet people you can help, as well as people who can help you. Don’t forget the local Chamber of Commerce and local business executives.

3. Set target date milestones and metrics to gauge progress.

Pick a reasonable desired business rollout date, and work backward, assigning completion dates to all the interim tasks required.

Quantify expected results, and the measurements you will use. Your goal should be smaller chunks and more milestones, allowing regular celebration of progress.

For example, every business needs a company name and logo, incorporation, an Internet domain name and website, social media accounts, prototypes, intellectual property, and key executive positions filled. Set milestones for each and measure progress to success.

4. Take action on your plan, and finish something every day.

You need to build momentum, and every milestone completion builds momentum. Celebrate each step forward, and check off completions to keep the team motivated and moving forward.

Don’t get caught up in the crisis of the day, or be satisfied with just working hard.

Now is the time to build your company culture, and make it one with a can-do attitude, team collaboration, and empowered people with a constant focus on the customer. Also, your culture must be not afraid to pivot and to adapt your plan as things change.

5. Narrow your focus daily to the key things that really matter.

Dilution of focus kills too many small businesses, as they try to attract more customers and counter more competitors. The best are determined to do one thing well, rather than many things poorly, with limited resources. Time is also of the essence, so make your impact early.

I once worked in a software startup that continually delayed initial shipment to add new features, based on feedback from early adopters and competitor concerns. The result was a product that was bloated and late to market. I recommend the minimum viable product (MVP) strategy.

For aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners, ideas will not turn into businesses, no matter how long you wait, or how hard you work, until someone builds and executes a plan with specific milestones and expected results.

If your dream is to change the world in your lifetime, now is the time to stop dreaming and start executing.

Will Microsoft Break the Internet?

When the Internet became popular in early 1990s, Microsoft was late to the partly. In a desperate catch-up move, Microsoft decided to drive Netscape (the most popular browser of the time) out of business by grafting Internet Explorer onto Windows.

The U.S. government slapped Microsoft with an anti-monopoly lawsuit, which hung around in court for about a decade, by which time Netscape had become an historical footnote, rendering the issue moot.

By that time, though, Microsoft no longer dominated high tech. Industry growth was shifting to up-and-comers like Google and Facebook, as well as a resurgent Apple. And so it remains today: Microsoft is too big to ignore but, frankly, about as exciting as IBM.

All that might change in the next few years, though, according to a recent article in Business Insider. Turns out that Microsoft is quietly testing a product, code-named “Bali,” that would completely disrupt and even destroy the business models of its chief rivals.

Today, online firms gather information about us, and use that information to increase the effectiveness of the ads they display by better targeting them to prospective buyers. Under this business model, Facebook and Google get 90% of the world’s online ad revenue.

Microsoft’s Bali turns that equation around. With Bali, you own your personal online data, which you can (if you choose) sell to the companies that want to target you with ads. Facebook and Google would only know what you want them to know.

Everything about you would, by default, be private. If you wanted it to remain so, fine. But you’d also have the choice to tell Facebook, Google and other online firms that “you can track me and sell ads to me but only if I get a piece of the action.”

In short, you’d get paid to use the Internet.

Will it work? Well, in the wake of multiple privacy scandals, this seems like an idea whose time has definitely come. And there’s no question whatsoever that Microsoft has the technical chops to develop and bulletproof the environment.

On the downside, though, Microsoft’s most successful products (Windows, Xbox, Azure, etc.) are imitations of innovations from other firms. The company’s track record launching something completely new is spotty, at best.

Still, if Microsoft pulls this off and Bali catches on, Microsoft might easily find itself in the same enviable position of massive market dominance it had back before the Internet upended their erstwhile Windows monopoly.

Frankly, I’m not sure I want Microsoft to have that kind of power. I am sure of this, though: if a single company is destined to dominate the future of the Web, I’d damn sight rather it be Microsoft than Facebook.