Bill Gates warns tech giants that a government crackdown may be in their future

Bill Gates discusses the 2017 Gates Foundation Annual Letter (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Bill Gates believes the world’s biggest tech companies are “absolutely” behaving in a manner that risks major government intervention. The former Microsoft CEO told Axios as much in an interview tied to the Gates Foundation annual letter.

Gates said that companies need to be careful their practices don’t “prevent government from being able to, under appropriate review, perform the type of functions that we’ve come to count on.”

He alluded to Apple’s reluctance to unlock the San Bernadino terrorist’s iPhone, but his comments are just as applicable to more recent events. In November, Facebook, Twitter, and Google endured a series of tense Congressional hearings on how their platforms were manipulated by foreign agents seeking to influence U.S. elections.

Gates’ comments carry extra weight as Microsoft’s underwent government scrutiny of its own, targeted by the U.S. Justice Department in a landmark antitrust case when he was at the helm of the company.

Asked by Mike Allen of Axios about which big trends scare him, Gates expressed concerns about “how much technology is empowering a small group of people to cause damage.” While giving people access to the tools of innovation is important, he said, “A small group can have an impact — in the case of nuclear, on millions; and in the case of bio, on billions. That is scary to me.”