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April 19, 2017

Former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer enters fake news fight for US taxpayers

New initiative USAFacts aims to give transparency to what the state spends money on.

By Ellie Burns

Former Microsoft chief exec Steve Ballmer has launched an initiative dubbed USAFacts, an online portal which hopes to make data collected by federal, state and local branches of government easier to access.

The idea behind the new initiative is for taxpayers to have complete visibility into how money is raised and spent by the state, in addition to assessing the performance of officials and legislators.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Ballmer said that he hoped the initiative would “help to depoliticise the partisan debate that we have”.

“At Microsoft, I learnt that when people were looking at the same data they tended to come to similar conclusions,” Mr Ballmer told the FT.Former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer enters fake news fight for US taxpayers

“I’m a numbers guy — they’re better than adjectives because they’re more precise.”

The online portal pulls data from more than 70 different government agencies and 130 government databases.

The initiative was conceived long before ‘fake news’ came to prominence, with the idea stemming from an argument Ballmer had with his wife. It all started when Ballmer refused to help his wife with her philanthropy, claiming that he had already made donations via his tax – his wife, however, disagreed.

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“I wanted to paint a story of what our tax really goes on,” he said. “I can’t say I saw anything coming about the standing of facts; I never anticipated that we would launch in this environment today.”

READ MORE: Why Ballmer left Microsoft

Mr Ballmer is now committed to releasing a report every year, with the annual report taking thestyle of a corporate security filing.

“When I was at Microsoft, the first thing I’d do when assessing a competitor was look at the 10-K,” he said. “They are written without hyperbole and omission, because the SEC requires that — you are not allowed to pump yourself up or leave things out.”


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