Microsoft receives the German Big Brother Award 2023 for its "life's work"

Stop - Pixabay[German]Microsoft received the German Big Brother Award 2023 for its "life's work" yesterday, April 28, 2023, because it uses its market power to force people, companies and public authorities to constantly transmit data during their digital activities, thereby making themselves subject to real-time surveillance. It is already the third Big Brother Award for Microsoft after 2002 and 2018 – that has to be achieved first.


The German Big Brother Award is an annual negative prize for data protection awarded to authorities, companies, organizations and politicians. The French magazine Le Monde once called the award the "Oscars for data octopi," because the winners – data sinners from business and politics – have to earn the award by taking action. The Big Brother Award is organized by digitalcourage, the Chaos Computer Club and the German Deutsche Vereinigung für Datenschutz e.V. (an Association for Data Protection), among others.

Microsoft as award winner

Microsoft was able to gain the first BigBrother Lifetime Award in 2002 for his Digital Rights Management, a broad copyright control technology. Unfortunately, it took Redmond 16 long years more, to receive a second award. In 2018, Microsoft was able to gain the award because "Windows 10 is constantly communicating with the company's headquarters in the United States." Another five years of hard work in Redmond on the front lines as a data collector then bore fruit again in 2023.

As former data protection commissioner Thilo Weichert said in his laudation: "The BigBrotherAward 2023 in the Lifetime Achievement category goes to Microsoft for using its market power to force people, companies and authorities to constantly transmit data during their digital activities, thereby making themselves open to real-time monitoring.

And with that we are in the middle of the data protection life, because the idea of ordinary users is that Google and Meta or Facebook, or perhaps Amazon as well as the Mac and iPhone company Apple are the large and evil US bit tech data collectors. That's true, because all of these US companies collect massive amounts of data globally in order to use it commercially, especially for advertising purposes, in disregard of data protection rules.

But the wolf in sheep's clothing, so to speak, is a company from Redmond. According to Thilo Weichert, "Microsoft regularly sails below the perception threshold, even though the company successfully pursues what we consider the more dangerous data strategy. This focuses less on short-term advertising revenues and more on making people, companies and authorities totally dependent on its services."


Not only has the company established its office software as the global standard, according to Weichert. After ousting alternatives, users are now also forced to use Microsoft's own cloud when operating the software, according to the laudation.The result: Microsoft controls virtually all data processing.

According to Weichert, "The corporation not only dominates private and professional processing and communication, but is increasingly taking control of our consumer and leisure behavior. It is betting on gaming with its Xbox and wants to buy the games manufacturer Activision Blizzard for $69 billion to open the door to the so-called metaverse. The end customers will be delighted with desktop streaming of any kind. With the participation in OpenAI at a price of 10 billion US dollars, Microsoft enters the business with so-called artificial intelligence and tries to displace the quasi-monopolist Alphabet or Google by integrating the chatbot ChatGPT into its search engine Bing. Microsoft is providing people with pre-filled answers and helping to diminish their ability to think critically on their own."

Part of Microsoft's business model, according to the jury at the award ceremony, is to throw ever more complex software onto the market, so that users need ever more powerful end devices. The latest twist is to supposedly make the software even "smarter" with AI. The first to profit from this is the hardware industry, i.e. processor manufacturers like AMD or Intel.

At the same time, Microsoft is urging users to use Software as a Service, i.e. Microsoft's cloud offerings – Azure. The software no longer runs on private PCs, and even larger company computers are increasingly overwhelmed by it. It is Microsoft's stated goal, according to Panos Panay, chief product officer (CPO), to "blur the line between cloud and endpoint" – in other words, to move data control to Microsoft's cloud. Microsoft, which began as a software-only vendor, now has a global cloud market share of about 30%.

Actually, politicians should have recognized the danger involved, and the old government introduced plans to free itself from the "constraints arising from dependencies on foreign providers or monopolies" in the digital sphere. They did not want – literally – to pursue a "big bang" approach.

Thus it runs like with the climatic protection: The the policy did de facto nothing against the Microsoft dominance. 96% of all federally direct German authorities used Microsoft Office as well as Windows in 2018, 69% Windows server. The enterises also relies almost exclusively on Microsoft products. Germany's flagship car manufacturer VW, for example, is virtually entirely dependent on Microsoft. Windows alone is used in more than three-quarters of all companies.

At the award ceremony, it was mentioned that the Berlin Senate Administration in 2022 overturned the previously decided provision of all Berlin teachers with the official software of a data protection-compliant local provider – and instead switched everything to Microsoft Exchange. The reason for this is worth reading – although I have read comments like this on the blog more often: "The Microsoft solution is supposedly cheaper and better suited to the teachers' equipment.

Well, in Berlin, 10,000 of the 34,000 teachers were already equipped with new accesses from the local provider. Whether Microsoft is cheaper in the short term is questionable, according to the Big Brother jury. That the long-term commitment to Microsoft ultimately serves only the company is obvious.

Coincidentally, also in November 2022, after years of discussion with Microsoft, the conference of German data protection regulators unanimously concluded that Microsoft 365 could not be brought into compliance with the GDPR. I had reported at the time in the blog post German data protection conference 2022 says Microsoft 365 still not GDPR compliant. The background: With each monthly update, more than a thousand software changes are made that are neither traceable, nor documented. The contractual terms specified by Microsoft are unclear. The company does not disclose which subcontractors it hires, who receive personal data just as Microsoft does.

Even after multiple revisions of the documents on cloud data processing, it remains open which data is used by the company for its own purposes. Neither data protection officers nor users can verify "whether all steps are lawful.

The Bundeskartellamt (German Federal Cartel Office) initiated proceedings against Microsoft at the end of March 2023 on suspicion that the company was abusing its market power.

After all, the proponents in favor of Microsoft and other large corporations say that they offer users more cyber security. This steep thesis was disproved once again on January 25, 2023, when Microsoft services failed worldwide due to a network configuration in the Azure cloud offering.

2021, the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) identified a serious vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange on 98% of all tested systems. The BSI responded with a level red warning. Without a doubt, Microsoft could spend a lot of money on IT security, according to the jury at the award ceremony. At the same time, as many IT managers have come to realize, Microsoft's complex software is becoming increasingly vulnerable to external attacks and failures.

What makes our "friends from the cyber and ransomware scene particularly happy" is that clouds and standardized software are the most popular targets for hackers because of the potential for the greatest possible success of attacks, as they make the development of new (malware) so much easier. In the event of an Internet blackout, nothing at all runs through the cloud. That's good, because Generation Z only wanted to work 4 days a week anyway – the only thing left to determine is that blackouts should preferably occur on Fridays, but that social media such as Facebook & Co. should be left out (but they don't run via Microsoft Azure either).

Microsoft's concentration on its cloud business is made even more explosive by the fact that the data flowing into the USA is exposed to the access of the security authorities and intelligence services there. In its ruling of July 16, 2020 on the Privacy Shield, the European Court of Justice once again determined that the level of data protection in the U.S. is too low and does not contain any precautions against mass access by authorities (see European Court cancels EU-US "Privacy Shield").

In order to continue dominating the EU market, Microsoft is increasingly offering its services via European data centers. With an "EU Data Boundary" launched at the beginning of 2023, it is courting trust for Microsoft 365, Azure etc. Microsoft is currently building and expanding 17 data centers in Europe. However, this does not change the fact that US authorities demand access to this data via the Cloud Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These laws oblige Microsoft to make data processed abroad available to the U.S. security authorities and to maintain confidentiality about it.

German authorities are to have their own Microsoft cloud in 2024. The German company SAP is being put forward as the operator. It remains unclear, according to Thilo Weichert in his laudation during the award ceremony, whether this really guarantees control over data processing. At the event, a nice piece of information also came to light on the sidelines. Marianne Janik, CEO of Microsoft Germany, revealed in an interview that her alternative dream job would be Minister of Defense.

It is therefore logical that Ms. Janik considers the U.S. Cloud Act to be an instrument of the rule of law and blames these "stupid and evil data protectionists" for the digitalization deficits in Germany. It remains unclear, says Thilo Weichert, whether she means the "evil" ironically. To be sure, Microsoft always acts as if data protection is also its own concern. In fact, the company's only goal is to lure, even force, users into its cloud, the members of the Big Brother Award jury have recognized. It is hardly possible to use the software without a personalized account, and certainly not to install it on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet. Microsoft is a big patronizing machine that robs us of our digital sovereignty, the jury concluded, so the Big Brother Award is richly deserved.

Microsoft isn't amused

Oh, by the way, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that the company suffers from perception distortions, stating "We must gratefully decline the award, because it does not correspond to the facts. We not only comply with the strict EU data protection laws, but often exceed them.We must gratefully decline the award, because it does not correspond to the facts. So not only do we meet the strict EU data protection laws, we often exceed them."

I hope you've all been strapped to your desk chairs. Not that anyone fell off the chair from laughing and hurt themselves – it's not my fault.

The Microsoft spokesperson adds "Starting in early 2023, our EU-based public sector and enterprise customers will be able to store and also process data from Microsoft 365, Microsoft Azure, Power Platform and Dynamics 365 within the EU." In addition, they seem to have somehow misunderstood about the award. They said that "the company did not have an opportunity to comment on the allegations until the award winners were announced at a press conference on April 25, 2023." Folks, the prize is an award, you've been working towards it for decades. Who will be so reproachful right away … Who is interested in the presentation of the Big Brother Awards 2023, can watch the video at this link.

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