Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates have at times referred to the foundation they established together as their “fourth child.” If over the next two years they can’t find a way to work together following their planned divorce, Mr. Gates will get full custody.
That was one of the most important takeaways from a series of announcements about the future of the world’s largest charitable foundation made on Wednesday by its chief executive, Mark Suzman, overshadowing an injection of $15 billion in resources that will be added to the $50 billion previously amassed in its endowment over two decades.
“They have agreed that if after two years either one of them decides that they cannot continue to work together, Melinda will resign as co-chair and trustee,” Mr. Suzman said in a message on Wednesday to employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If that happened, he added, Ms. French Gates “would receive personal resources from Bill for her philanthropic work” separate from the foundation’s endowment.
The money at stake underscores the strange mix of public significance — in global health, poverty reduction and gender equality, among other important areas — and private affairs that attends any move made by the first couple of philanthropy, even after the announcement of their split. The foundation plans to add trustees outside their close circle, a step toward better governance that philanthropy experts had urged for years.
announced their divorce in May, Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates noted the importance of the work done by the foundation they had built and said they “continue to share a belief in that mission.” In the announcement on Wednesday, each echoed those sentiments.
“These new resources and the evolution of the foundation’s governance will sustain this ambitious mission and vital work for years to come,” Mr. Gates said in a statement.
Ms. French Gates emphasized the importance of expanding the board. “These governance changes bring more diverse perspectives and experience to the foundation’s leadership,” she said in a statement. “I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”
In the immediate aftermath of the divorce announcement, it was unclear how they would share control of the institution. Wednesday’s announcement indicated that if they cannot work out their differences, it is the Microsoft co-founder Mr. Gates who will maintain control, as he essentially buys his ex-wife out of the foundation.
Mr. Suzman said he did not know how much Ms. French Gates would get if it came to that. But any payout would most likely be significant.
Ms. French Gates’s name since the divorce was announced. She pursues her own priorities through a separate organization known as Pivotal Ventures. Mr. Gates also has his own group, Gates Ventures.
Less than a year ago, the Gates Foundation was run by Mr. Gates, Ms. French Gates, his father and one of his closest friends, the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett. It was a remarkable concentration of power for one of the most influential institutions in the world, a $50 billion private foundation that works in every corner of the globe.
The restructuring announced Wednesday could begin the process of making the Gates Foundation more responsive to the people its mission aims to help and loosen the grip on the reins that its founders have held for more than two decades.
“We’re trying to do this in a very careful and deliberate manner, thinking for the long term,” Mr. Suzman said in an interview.
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In a larger sense, the planned changes at the Gates Foundation reflect the tensions within philanthropy as a whole — between the wishes of the wealthy, powerful donors who provide the millions and even billions of dollars and the nonprofits using those funds to feed, shelter and treat those in need.
“The problems with the governance predated the separation and divorce just as those problems are an issue with all family foundations,” said Rob Reich, co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford.
Two former senior Gates Foundation officials called for an expanded board in an article a few weeks after the divorce announcement, including “a chair who is not the foundation’s C.E.O., founder or a founder’s family member.”
“Given that founders receive a substantial tax benefit for their donations, the assets the board oversees should be regarded as belonging to the public, with the board being held accountable to a fiduciary standard of care,” wrote Alex Friedman, the former chief financial officer, and Julie Sunderland, the former director of the foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund.
The Gates Foundation is trying to fight Covid-19, eradicate polio and reshape the struggle for gender equality, even as its two co-chairs extricate themselves from a 27-year marriage. The foundation has more than 1,700 employees and makes grants in countries around the world. Since 2000, the foundation has made grants totaling more than $55 billion, much of it from Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates, but tens of billions also came from Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.
Yet, in significant ways, the future of such an influential institution, one that touches the lives of millions of people through its grant recipients, is being decided in a separation agreement between two billionaires.
Mr. Buffett’s announcement last month that he was stepping down as the third trustee of the foundation made clear that the divorce had set significant changes in motion. Mr. Suzman promised at the time that governance changes would be announced this month, with many observers anticipating that a new slate of independent trustees would be revealed.
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Details on what that might look like remained few on Wednesday, with neither names of candidates for the board of trustees nor even the ultimate number of new trustees released. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates will approve changes to the foundation’s governance structures by the end of the year and the new trustees will be announced in January, according to the statement.
At the center of the impending changes stands Mr. Suzman, a 14-year veteran of the Gates Foundation, who was named chief executive just as the spread of Covid-19 in the United States was becoming apparent. Born in South Africa, the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Mr. Suzman served as a correspondent for The Financial Times in London, South Africa and Washington before going to work at the United Nations. He joined the foundation in 2007 to work on global development policy before claiming the top post last year.
Mr. Suzman said in an interview that he had heard that Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates would be divorcing only about 24 hours before the news was announced. He said they had started talking about possible governance changes “almost right away” after that.
He said he was in regular contact with both. “I’m having three-way conversations with them,” Mr. Suzman said. “We’re having regular three-way email exchanges and other discussions.”
He noted that the hands-on leadership of Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates meant the changes will take some time to enact.
“The degree and depth of engagement of our co-chairs and trustees goes significantly beyond what a traditional board does and how it does it,” he said in the interview. “So we’ll need some time to think through how we balance that with the people we bring on board.”
Mr. Suzman will work with Connie Collingsworth, the foundation’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, to handle the process. The final decisions on both the new trustees and the changes to the foundation’s governance documents will be made by Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates. It is a reminder that, at least for now, power remains concentrated in the former couple.
Mr. Buser declined to comment on February’s changes.
Amazon also unveiled a cloud service, Luna, in September. It is so far available only to invitees, who pay $6 a month to play the 85 games on the platform. The games can be streamed from the cloud to phones, computers and Amazon’s Fire TV.
Like Google, Amazon has struggled to assemble a vast library of appealing games, though it does offer games from the French publisher Ubisoft for an added fee. Amazon has also had trouble developing its own games, which Mr. van Dreunen said showed that the creative artistry necessary to make enticing games was at odds with the more corporate style of the tech giants.
“They may have an interesting technological solution, but it totally lacks personality,” he said.
Amazon said it remained dedicated to game development: It opened a game studio in Montreal in March and, after a long delay, is releasing a game called New World this summer.
Even console makers have jumped into cloud gaming. Microsoft, which makes the Xbox console, released a cloud offering, xCloud or Xbox Cloud Gaming, last fall. For a $15 monthly subscription, users can play more than 200 games on various devices.
Sony also has a cloud gaming service, PlayStation Now, where games can be streamed to PlayStation consoles and computers.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in an interview last month that he did not think it was possible to be a gaming company “with any level of big ambition” without cloud gaming. Sony declined to comment.
Other companies have waded in, too. Nvidia, the chip maker that produces gaming hardware, has a $10-a-month cloud program, GeForce Now.
By the time Melinda French Gates decided to end her 27-year marriage, her husband was known globally as a software pioneer, a billionaire and a leading philanthropist.
But in some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings. That is attracting new scrutiny amid the breakup of one of the world’s richest, most powerful couples.
In 2018, Ms. French Gates wasn’t satisfied with her husband’s handling of a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, according to two people familiar with the matter. After Mr. Gates moved to settle the matter confidentially, Ms. French Gates insisted on an outside investigation. The money manager, Michael Larson, remains in his job.
On at least a few occasions, Mr. Gates pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to people with direct knowledge of his overtures. In meetings at the foundation, he was at times dismissive toward his wife, witnesses said.
public view, Ms. French Gates was unhappy. She hired divorce lawyers, setting in motion a process that culminated this month with the announcement that their marriage was ending.
a public appearance in 2016.
Long after they married in 1994, Mr. Gates would on occasion pursue women in the office.
In 2006, for example, he attended a presentation by a female Microsoft employee. Mr. Gates, who at the time was the company’s chairman, left the meeting and immediately emailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, according to two people familiar with the exchange.
“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Mr. Gates wrote in an email, according to a person who read it to The New York Times.
in a column in Time magazine announcing the pledge.
money manager, earning solid returns on the Gateses’ and the foundation’s combined $174 billion investment portfolio through a secretive operation called Cascade Investment. Cascade owned assets like stocks, bonds, hotels and vast tracts of farmland, and it also put the Gateses’ money in other investment vehicles. One was a venture capital firm called Rally Capital, which is in the same building that Cascade occupies in Kirkland, Wash.
Rally Capital had an ownership stake in a nearby bicycle shop. In 2017, the woman who managed the bike shop hired a lawyer, who wrote a letter to Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates.
The letter said that Mr. Larson had been sexually harassing the manager of the bike shop, according to three people familiar with the claim. The letter said the woman had tried to handle the situation on her own, without success, and she asked the Gateses for help. If they didn’t resolve the situation, the letter said, she might pursue legal action.
The woman reached a settlement in 2018 in which she signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a payment, the three people said.
While Mr. Gates thought that brought the matter to an end, Ms. French Gates was not satisfied with the outcome, two of the people said. She called for a law firm to conduct an independent review of the woman’s allegations, and of Cascade’s culture. Mr. Larson was put on leave while the investigation was underway, but he was eventually reinstated. (It is unclear whether the investigation exonerated Mr. Larson.) He remains in charge of Cascade.
published an article detailing Mr. Gates’s relationship with Mr. Epstein. The article reported that the two men had spent time together on multiple occasions, flying on Mr. Epstein’s private jet and attending a late-night gathering at his Manhattan townhouse. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Mr. Gates emailed colleagues in 2011, after he first met Mr. Epstein.
(Ms. Arnold, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, said at the time that he regretted the relationship with Mr. Epstein. She said that Mr. Gates had been unaware that the plane belonged to Mr. Epstein and that Mr. Gates had been referring to the unique décor of Mr. Epstein’s home.)
The Times article included details about Mr. Gates’s interactions with Mr. Epstein that Ms. French Gates had not previously known, according to people familiar with the matter. Soon after its publication she began consulting with divorce lawyers and other advisers who would help the couple divide their assets, one of the people said. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the timing of her lawyers’ hiring.
The revelations in The Times were especially upsetting to Ms. French Gates because she had previously voiced her discomfort with her husband associating with Mr. Epstein, who died by suicide in federal custody in 2019, shortly after being charged with sex trafficking of girls. Ms. French Gates expressed her unease in the fall of 2013 after she and Mr. Gates had dinner with Mr. Epstein at his townhouse, according to people briefed on the dinner and its aftermath. (The incident was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.)
For years, Mr. Gates continued to go to dinners and meetings at Mr. Epstein’s home, where Mr. Epstein usually surrounded himself with young and attractive women, said two people who were there and two others who were told about the gatherings.
Ms. Arnold said Mr. Gates never socialized or attended parties with Mr. Epstein, and she denied that young and attractive women participated at their meetings. “Bill only met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy,” Ms. Arnold said.
On at least one occasion, Mr. Gates remarked in Mr. Epstein’s presence that he was unhappy in his marriage, according to people who heard the comments.
Leon Black, the head of Apollo Investments who had a multifaceted business and personal relationship with Mr. Epstein, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The meeting was held at Apollo’s New York offices.
It is unclear whether Ms. French Gates was aware of the latest meetings with Mr. Epstein. A person who recently spoke to her said that “she decided that it was best for her to leave her marriage as she moved into the next phase of her life.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started with ambitions that, by its lofty standards today, appear almost quaint: providing free internet access to public libraries in the United States. As its founders’ objectives grew in scope, so did the foundation’s reach, until it achieved its current position as the pre-eminent private institution in global public health.
With 1,600 staff members directing $5 billion in annual grants to 135 countries around the globe, the Gates Foundation set a new standard for private philanthropy in the 21st century.
All of that was thrown into question on Monday when the world learned that the foundation’s co-chairs, who had been married for 27 years, filed for divorce in Washington State. Grant recipients and staff members alike wondered what would happen and whether it might affect the mission.
The message from the headquarters in Seattle was clear: Bill and Melinda Gates may be splitting up, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation isn’t going anywhere. Their roles as co-chairs and trustees are not changing, and they will still set the agenda for the organization that bears their names. In an email on Monday, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive, Mark Suzman, reassured the staff that both Mr. and Ms. Gates remained committed to the organization.
observers noted that Ms. Gates had added her maiden name, French, to her Twitter profile.
The couple deployed their connections last year in response to the pandemic, calling leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi to drum up support for their plans. The foundation has committed $1.75 billion so far to its Covid-19 response, and played a key role in shaping the global deal to bring vaccines to poor countries.
That prominence has also brought a fair share of scrutiny, throwing a spotlight on Mr. Gates’s robust defense of intellectual property rights — in this case, specific to vaccine patents — even in a time of extreme crisis, as well as the larger question of how unelected wealthy individuals can play such an outsize part on the global stage.
“In a civil society that is democratic, one couple’s personal choices shouldn’t lead university research centers, service providers and nonprofits to really question whether they’ll be able to continue,” said Maribel Morey, founding executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences.
reported earlier by Bloomberg.
Before the news of the divorce broke, the Gates Foundation had been in the midst of a period of upheaval. The pandemic shuttered its headquarters in Seattle even as staff members drawn from the top ranks of government health agencies and the pharmaceutical industry worked to muster a response to the deadly, rapidly spreading new coronavirus.
And as his public profile during the pandemic grew, so did spurious conspiracy theories such as that the global immunization effort was a cover for Mr. Gates to implant microchips to track people, blatantly false but still damaging as misinformation increased vaccine hesitancy.
Then Mr. Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., also a foundation co-chair, died in September. The elder Mr. Gates had initially taken the lead on his son’s charitable endeavors while the younger Mr. Gates was still at the helm of Microsoft. Bill Gates Sr. was viewed by many as a calm voice and a moral compass within the organization, even as he had stepped back in recent years.
The third trustee, the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, turned 90 last year and has begun to discuss succession plans at his company, Berkshire Hathaway.
Dr. Morey said the recent changes could also present an opportunity to create a large, diverse board while increasing visibility into the foundation’s decision-making. “Part of the anxiety is coming from the lack of transparency in the day-to-day activities of the Gates Foundation,” she said.
Forbes estimates at $124 billion. The divorce won’t affect the money that has already been given to the foundation trust, but the couple may devote less money to it over time than they would have if they had stayed together.
“People are right to feel unmoored in terms of the direction of the foundation,” said Ms. Tompkins-Stange of the University of Michigan. “There’s a lot of ambiguity, as there might be in any divorce situation, but they seem committed to co-parenting the foundation.”
Corporations across the country find themselves at the center of a swirling partisan debate over voting rights. With Republicans in almost every state advancing legislation that would make it harder for some people to vote, companies are under pressure from both sides. Democratic activists, along with many mainstream business leaders, are calling on corporations to oppose the new laws. At the same time, a growing chorus of senior Republicans is telling corporate America to keep quiet.
On Thursday, Republicans in Florida passed a new bill that would limit voting by mail, curtail the use of drop boxes and prohibit actions to help people waiting in line to vote, among other restrictions. Its passage came just weeks after more than 400 corporations issued a national statement supporting expanded access to voting and implicitly criticizing the restrictive efforts. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is expected to sign the state’s bill.
In the past, opposition from big business has helped squash restrictive legislation at the state level, and many companies have spoken out on the voting issue.
But as Republicans step up their attacks on “woke corporate hypocrites,” as Senator Marco Rubio put it, that criticize the party’s agenda, many other companies are proceeding cautiously. After companies including Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola publicly opposed the voting law that Georgia Republicans passed in March, Mr. Rubio, Republican of Florida, excoriated them in a video on Twitter, and former President Donald J. Trump called for a boycott.
Soon after, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, told chief executives to “stay out of politics.” And in recent days, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, have criticized corporations, accusing them of supporting the Democratic agenda.
The letter from Fair Elections Texas has been in the works for weeks, as a group of political operatives, Mr. Kirk and coalition members, including Patagonia, tried to persuade companies to sign on. National organizations like the Civic Alliance and the Leadership Now Project also helped corral companies.
“We stand together, as a nonpartisan coalition, calling on all elected leaders in Texas to support reforms that make democracy more accessible and oppose any changes that would restrict eligible voters’ access to the ballot,” the letter reads. “We urge business and civic leaders to join us as we call upon lawmakers to uphold our ever elusive core democratic principle: equality.”
In the Great Recession more than a decade ago, big tech companies hit a rough patch just like everyone else. Now they have become unquestioned winners of the pandemic economy.
The combined yearly revenue of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook is about $1.2 trillion, according to earnings reported this week, more than 25 percent higher than the figure just as the pandemic started to bite in 2020. In less than a week, those five giants make more in sales than McDonald’s does in a year.
The U.S. economy is cranking back from 2020, when it contracted for the first time since the financial crisis. But for the tech giants, the pandemic hit was barely a blip. It’s a fantastic time to be a titan of U.S. technology — as long as you ignore the screaming politicians, the daily headlines about killing free speech or dodging taxes, the gripes from competitors and workers, and the too-many-to-count legal investigations and lawsuits.
America’s technology superpowers aren’t making bonkers dollars in spite of the deadly coronavirus and its ripple effects through the global economy. They have grown even stronger because of the pandemic. It’s both logical and slightly nuts.
have more money in their pockets thanks to government stimulus checks and pandemic savings, and the tech giants are getting a significant share. Their combined revenue is equivalent to roughly 5 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States.
Big Tech’s pandemic big bucks have an understandable root cause: We needed its services.
People gravitated to Facebook’s apps to stay in touch and entertained, and businesses wanted to pay Facebook and Google, which Alphabet owns, to help them find customers who were stuck at home. People preferred to buy diapers and deck chairs from Amazon rather than risk their health shopping in stores. Companies loaded up on software from Microsoft as their businesses and work forces went virtual. Apple’s laptops and iPads become lifelines for office workers and schoolchildren.
Before the pandemic, America’s technology superpowers were already influential in how we communicated, worked, stayed entertained and shopped. Now they are practically unavoidable. Investors have scooped up Big Tech shares in a bet that these companies are nearly invincible.
“They were already on the way up and had been for the best part of a decade, and the pandemic was unique,” said Thomas Philippon, a professor of finance at New York University. “For them it was a perfect positive storm.”
Sales in the first quarter rose 44 percent from a year earlier, and Amazon’s profits before taxes — which have never been exactly robust — more than doubled to $8.9 billion. Businesses are addicted to Amazon’s cloud computer services, where sales rose 32 percent, and shoppers can’t live without Amazon’s delivery. Investors love Amazon, too. The company’s stock market value has nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020 to $1.8 trillion.
For the other tech giants, it’s as if their brief pandemic nosedive never happened. Advertising sales typically rise and fall with the economy. But as other types of ad spending shrank when the U.S. economy contracted last year, ad sales rose for Google and Facebook. The growth was even better for them in the first three months of this year.
A year ago, analysts worried that Apple would be crippled as the pandemic gripped China, which is the hub of the company’s manufacturing operations and its most important consumer market. The fears didn’t last long. In the first three months of 2021, Apple’s revenue from selling iPhones increased at the fastest rate since 2012. Sales in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong nearly doubled from a year earlier.
been on a tear. So have some younger technology companies, such as Snap and Zoom, the maker of the pandemic-favorite videoconferencing app. The crisis forced all sorts of businesses to go digital fast in ways that could help them thrive. Restaurants invested in online sales and delivery, and doctors went full bore into telemedicine.
But the dictionary doesn’t have enough superlatives to describe what’s happening to the five biggest technology companies. It’s all a bit awkward, really. It’s rocket fuel for critics, including some regulators and lawmakers in Europe and the United States, who say the tech giants crowd out newcomers and leave everyone worse off.
peculiarities of the pandemic economy. Some people and sectors are doing awesome, while other families are lining up at food banks and while companies like airlines are begging for cash. Unlike the stock market clobbering in the Great Recession, stock indexes in the United States have reached new highs.
The tech superstars have also capitalized on this moment. Alphabet and Facebook have used the pandemic to cut back in places that matter less, such as promotional costs and travel and entertainment budgets. And the tech giants have generally increased spending in areas that extend their advantages.
Alphabet is now spending more on big-ticket projects, like building computer complexes, than Exxon Mobil spends to dig oil and gas out of the ground. Amazon’s work force has expanded by more than 470,000 people since the end of 2019. That deepens the moat separating the tech superstars from everyone else.
Big Tech is emerging from the pandemic lean, mean and ready for a U.S. economy expected to roar back to life in 2021. Meanwhile, there are still long lines at food banks. Some American workers who lost their jobs last year may never get them back. Housing advocates are worried that millions of people will be evicted from their homes. And being Big Tech is an invitation for everyone to hate you — but you do have towering piles of money.
Microsoft will decrease the share of money it charges independent developers that publish PC games on its online store, starting in August, the company said on Thursday.
Developers will keep 88 percent of the revenue from their games, up from 70 percent. That could make Microsoft’s store more attractive to independent studios than competitors like Valve’s gaming store, called Steam, which typically starts by taking a 30 percent cut. Epic Games’ store takes 12 percent.
“We want to make sure that we’re competitive in the market,” said Sarah Bond, a Microsoft vice president who leads the gaming ecosystem organization. “Our objective is to have a leading revenue share and really a leading platform.”
The share of revenue that developers get to keep has come under greater scrutiny across the tech industry. Google and Apple have faced antitrust questions for the 30 percent fees they charge developers whose programs appear in their app stores.
Epic sued Apple and Google separately, claiming they violated antitrust laws by forcing developers to use their payment systems. Epic had tried to bypass the fees by letting customers pay for items in its Fortnite video game directly through Epic. That caused Apple and Google to boot Fortnite from their app stores.
Apple and Google have since reduced fees for some developers. Epic’s lawsuit against Apple is set to head to trial on Monday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.
Microsoft said on Monday that it would buy Nuance Communications, a provider of artificial intelligence and speech-recognition software, for about $16 billion, as it pushes to expand its health care technology services.
In buying Nuance, whose products include Dragon medical transcription software, Microsoft is hoping to bolster its offerings for the fast-growing field of medical computing. The two companies have already partnered on ways to automate the process of transcribing doctors’ conversations with patients and integrating that information into patients’ medical records.
Nuance is also known for providing the speech recognition software behind Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. In recent years, however, it has focused on creating and selling software focused on the medical field.
Under the terms of the deal announced on Monday, Microsoft will pay $56 a share in cash, up 23 percent from Nuance’s closing price on Friday. Including assumed debt, the transaction values Nuance at about $19.7 billion.
2015 acquisition of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion.
“Nuance provides the A.I. layer at the health care point of delivery and is a pioneer in the real-world application of enterprise A.I.,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in a statement.
SAN FRANCISCO — Discord, a social media company popular with gamers, has held deal talks with Microsoft for a transaction that could top $10 billion, according to people briefed on the situation.
The talks were preliminary and no deal is imminent, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the discussions are confidential. The talks have taken place as video gaming has boomed in the pandemic and as Microsoft, one of the world’s most valuable tech companies, has bolstered its gaming business with deal making.
Many of Microsoft’s acquisitions in recent years have focused on online communities, such as its purchases of LinkedIn, GitHub, and the gaming developer that created Minecraft. Last summer, Microsoft was in talks to buy the video app TikTok in what would have been a blockbuster acquisition; the discussions later fell apart. In September, Microsoft also bought ZeniMax Media, the parent company of several large gaming studios, for $7.5 billion.
Discord, which counts more than 100 million monthly active users, has been highly popular in the pandemic, as people have used the service to chat with one another while playing games. The San Francisco-based company, which has raised nearly $600 million in funding since 2014, has had preliminary deal talks with various suitors over the years, said another person with knowledge of the matter.
previously reported that Discord was holding deal discussions, and Bloomberg reported Microsoft’s involvement.
Joost van Dreunen, a New York University professor who studies the business of video games, said that if a deal were to happen, Discord “would be a natural fit” with Microsoft’s Xbox video gaming business. He said Microsoft has been “building hardware, buying software, and is now stitching it all together with the connective tissue of a community layer.”
Microsoft has said it wants to make it easier for people to play games at home on its Xbox consoles, or on-the-go on their phones. In the last three months of 2020, its gaming business generated $5 billion in revenue for the first time, following the release of new Xbox consoles.
Discord was founded in 2015 by Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy, programmers and entrepreneurs, as a platform for video game players to chat and hang out while gaming. It gained mainstream attention as a gathering ground for the far right, who used Discord to organize the white nationalist Charlottesville, Va., rally in 2017.
Discord has since implemented stricter content moderation rules and banned alt-right communities. The app, which allows people to create private servers — in essence, small communities — features audio, text and video chat options.
Last year, Discord announced plans to expand beyond gaming into everyday usage among online groups of all kinds. It has been used for activities like college classes and organizing events like the Black Lives Matter protests.
The company crossed $100 million in revenue last year, one of the people said. Discord makes money by selling subscriptions to a premium version of the service.
LinkedIn has been the lone major American social network allowed to operate in China. To do so, the Microsoft-owned service for professionals censors the posts made by its millions of Chinese users.
Now, it’s in hot water for not censoring enough.
China’s internet regulator rebuked LinkedIn executives earlier this month for failing to control political content, according to three people briefed on the matter. Though it isn’t clear precisely what material got the company into trouble, the regulator said it found objectionable posts circulating in the period around an annual meeting of China’s lawmakers, said these people, who asked for anonymity because the issue isn’t public.
As a punishment, the people said, officials are requiring LinkedIn to perform a self-evaluation and offer a report to the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator. The service was also forced to suspend new sign-ups of users inside China for 30 days, one of the people added, though that time period could change depending on the administration’s judgment.
The C.A.C. did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
LinkedIn’s presence in China has long drawn interest across Silicon Valley as a potential path into the country’s walled-off internet, home to the world’s largest group of web users. The punishment underscores deep divisions between the United States and China over how the internet should work.
such barriers are symptomatic of China’s unwillingness to follow global norms governing the internet and technology more broadly.
LinkedIn’s China service, which has more than 50 million members, makes it vulnerable to tensions between the two powers. The run-in with the regulator came just weeks before Thursday’s scheduled meeting between Chinese and American officials in Alaska, the first face-to-face sit down of the Biden administration.
Competition over technology has been a key sticking point between the two countries. The Biden administration has said it will turn to allies to help pressure China on tech policies it deems unfair. Chinese officials have pushed new plans for technological self-reliance, which involve developing its own versions of everything from computer chips to jetliners.
Anxieties in Washington were recently heightened by a hack that Microsoft has tentatively linked to China aimed at businesses and government agencies that used the company’s email services.
On March 9, LinkedIn posted a statement saying it had “temporarily” stopped registering new users in China. “We’re a global platform with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localized version of LinkedIn in China,” the statement added.
opening a Chinese site nearly seven years ago, LinkedIn drew curiosity from a U.S. internet industry perennially banned by the country’s Great Firewall, as China’s censorship system is nicknamed. To ensure its presence, LinkedIn sold a stake to well-connected Chinese venture capital partners and pledged to follow local laws, including censorship guidelines.
The company has used a combination of software algorithms and human reviewers to flag posts that could offend Beijing. Users who run afoul of the speech rules have generally received emails informing them that their post is not viewable by LinkedIn members in China.
Its early efforts drew ire from users whose content was blocked even if they had been posting from outside the country. Still, unlike its peers, LinkedIn has remained in China and offered a tantalizing case study in market access.
That perseverance hasn’t always translated into success. LinkedIn has had a hard time competing with WeChat, the ubiquitous Chinese chat and social media service, and remains a relatively small player.
The environment has become more difficult, too. Since he took the reins of the Communist Party in late 2012, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has implemented a series of crackdowns on the internet. Mr. Xi’s policies have also called for deeper economic self-sufficiency and eschewing Western culture, a blow to a service whose appeal has been to connect Chinese professionals to the world.
Mr. Xi has presided over the rising power of the C.A.C., the regulator that punished LinkedIn. It has become a de facto ministry of censorship, poring over memes and complaints across the country’s internet, and calling for takedowns when companies’ censors miss something.