Bill Gates: ‘I was naive at Microsoft,’ didn’t realize success would bring antitrust scrutiny

Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates told CNBC Wednesday morning he had been naive about the government scrutiny that comes with getting large when he was running Microsoft and said the chance of Big Tech antitrust regulation is “pretty high.”

“Whenever you get to be a super valuable company, affecting the way people communicate and even political discourse being mediated through your system and higher percentage of commerce — through your system — you’re going to expect a lot of government attention,” Gates said in the “Squawk Box” interview.

Last week, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust released a report concluding that AmazonAppleFacebook and Google hold monopoly power.

“I was naive at Microsoft and didn’t realize that our success would lead to government attention,” Gates said, referring to Microsoft’s antitrust challenges from over 20 years ago. “And so I made some mistakes — you know, just saying, ‘Hey, I never go to Washington, D.C.’ And now I don’t think, you know, that naivete is there.”

Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in the middle of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust case, which charged the company had tried to monopolize the web browser market when it bundled Internet Explorer with Windows. The company settled with the DOJ in 2001.  

Gates’ successor at the time, Steve Ballmer, recommended on CNBC last week that Big Tech companies should go to Washington and proactively engage with regulators, but also said he would “bet money” Congress won’t break them up.

“The rules will change somewhat,” Gates said in contrast about the possibility of future regulation. “I’d say the chances of them doing something is pretty high.”

“We have to get the particulars,” said Gates when asked about the risk of additional regulation cutting down on innovation. “Is there some rule about acquisition? Is there some rule about splitting parts of the companies, either — to create open availability of those resources?”

Anticompetitive “killer acquisitions” was one of the House subcommittee’s concerns, and the report looked into whether Facebook acquired Instagram to eliminate a competitor. Splitting up such acquisitions may be one possibility of future regulation.

“We’re in uncharted territory here,” said Gates.  

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