Microsoft hires up in China for secretive, ‘revolutionary’ real estate project

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Microsoft is quietly doubling down on its controversial presence in China as it hires staff for a major real estate project that the company is advertising to locals as “revolutionary,” The Post has learned.

The tech giant co-founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen is looking to hire staffers in Suzhou to join a “big global team” that’s focused on helping people find their “dream house,” little-noticed job postings spotted by The Post show.

“We’re transforming the real estate industry into a revolutionary state where all of the rental tasks are done entirely online,” read more than a dozen job listings from March.

Despite the ambitious promises to Chinese job seekers, Microsoft has not published any press releases about their new real estate ambitions and did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Post.

The listings, which are for software engineering and management roles, are for a role on a team called “Bing Rentals.” They appear to indicate the company could be building a rental listings app to compete with the likes of Zillow and Realtor.com.

“Leveraging the great eco-system Microsoft has been building such as feeds, search engine, browser, and app, this investment has great growth opportunity and will empower people with rental need to find their dream house efficiently,” the job postings read. 

Microsoft says it is “transforming the real estate industry into a revolutionary state where all of the rental tasks are done entirely online.”

The current hiring push underscores that Microsoft already has a far larger presence in China than most other American tech firms — and has determined that cooperating with the Chinese government is a reasonable cost of doing business in the country.

History of censorship

While other Big Tech firms including Google and Meta are effectively barred from China, Microsoft has built a large presence in the country since it entered the market in 1992.

For example, Microsoft has run a version of its Bing search engine in China since 2009 and frequently censors results at the government’s request. 

From July through December of 2021, Microsoft removed more than 1,100 pieces of online content at the request of the Chinese government, according to the company’s transparency report.

Google, meanwhile, used to run a version of its search engine in China that withheld results but pulled the product in 2010, writing that “we have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results.”

Google later considered re-launching a censored search engine in China but abandoned those plans in 2018 after they were reported by the Intercept, sparking a political backlash in the US. 

In another example of Microsoft’s compliance with Chinese censorship, the company’s careers site LinkedIn had repeatedly followed government orders to remove posts from academics, journalists and other users since Microsoft purchased the site in 2016, drawing scrutiny from activists.

Microsoft Suzhou
Microsoft is looking to hire staffers in its Suzhou, China office to join a “big global team” that’s focused on real estate software. 
V-huawe / Wikimedia Commons

In October, Microsoft said it would shut down the Chinese version of LinkedIn, citing “greater compliance requirements in China.” The company later launched a new job-seeking product in China called InJobs, which appears designed to minimize controversy because it does not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles. 

‘We keep investing in China’

Though Microsoft did not respond to repeated requests for comment, the company’s then-China chief Alain Crozier gave an exclusive interview to Chinese state propaganda outlet China Daily in December 2020 where he outlined the company’s ambitions in the country. 

At the time, Crozier said Microsoft employed 8,000 people in China and was looking to up its employee count in the country 10,000 by June 2022. 

“About 90% of the new positions will be engineers and research and development staff members,” said Crozier, who left his role as China chief in February 2021. “We keep investing in China for a lot of reasons, including the quality of the people and the necessity for us to support our customers and partners on innovation.” 

Alain Crozier
Microsoft’s then-China chief Alain Crozier said in 2020 that the company wanted to have 10,000 employees in the country by June 2022.
Getty Images

But Crozier’s departure and Microsoft’s decision to kill the Chinese version of LinkedIn last year appear to have done little to slow the company’s growth in China.

Microsoft’s career site displays 759 open roles in China, mostly for software engineers.

The real estate job listings were first spotted by Chinese tech site Ping West but have not been previously reported in US media.

Capitol Hill jockeying

Microsoft’s Chinese expansion comes as the company maintains relatively high standing on Capitol Hill.

Even though Microsoft has a $2 trillion market capitalization that makes the company nearly as valuable as Google and Meta combined, many lawmakers who regularly rail against Big Tech have been conspicuously quiet about Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of “Call of Duty” developer Activision.

That may be because Microsoft President Brad Smith has positioned himself as an ally to lawmakers as they take on other Big Tech companies, arguing that tech firms should work with Congress to craft rules rather than fighting tooth-and-nail against all regulation.

Microsoft
Microsoft has 759 open roles in China.
V-huawe / Wikimedia Commons

“They’ve flown under the radar well,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a cybersecurity consultant and former Homeland Security deputy assistant secretary, adding that the company has not yet been forced to “choose a flag” between the US and China.

In another move that’s angered Microsoft’s rivals, the company has also publicly supported bills in Australia and Europe requiring Google to pay publishers for news content, leading Google to accuse Microsoft in 2021 of being “willing to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival.”

Meta and Google have also sought to portray antitrust bills as national security risks, claiming that anti-Big Tech legislation could boost China by undermining America’s competitiveness.

Brad Smith
Microsoft President Brad Smith has a far better standing with anti-Big Tech lawmakers than Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook.
Getty Images

Another awkward aspect of Microsoft’s presence in China is the fact that the company itself appears to have been a victim of Chinese hackers.

Last summer, Microsoft and the US and UK governments blamed hackers affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security for breaching Microsoft’s Exchange email service, stealing emails from thousands of accounts associated with businesses, government offices and schools around the world.

Yet the company’s current real estate push shows that even being hacked by the Chinese government isn’t enough to drive Microsoft out of the country.

Rosenzweig said that Microsoft is a huge contractor for the US government, which may make US regulators less likely to raise concerns about the company’s large operation in China — even though he argues it poses a legitimate national security risk.

“Dependency makes you kind of silent,” Rosenzweig said of the US government.

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