[Reader-list] Microsoft helps China to censor bloggers

Rana Dasgupta eye at ranadasgupta.com
Thu Jun 16 12:52:48 IST 2005




Microsoft helps China to censor bloggers

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Wednesday June 15, 2005
The Guardian

Civil liberties groups have condemned an arrangement between Microsoft 
and Chinese authorities to censor the internet.

The American company is helping censors remove "freedom" and "democracy" 
from the net in China with a software package that prevents bloggers 
from using these and other politically sensitive words on their websites.

The restrictions, which also include an automated denial of "human 
rights", are built into MSN Spaces, a blog service launched in China 
last month by Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology, a venture 
in which Microsoft holds a 50% stake.

Users who try to include such terms in subject lines are warned: "This 
topic contains forbidden words. Please delete them."

Even the most basic political discussion is difficult because 
"communism", "socialism", and "capitalism" are blocked in this way, 
although these words can be used in the body of the main text. Many 
taboo words are predictable, such as "Taiwanese independence", "Tibet", 
"Dalai Lama", "Falun Gong", "terrorism" and "massacre". But there are 
also quirks that reflect the embryonic nature of net censorship and the 
propaganda ministry's perceived threats.

The word "demonstration" is taboo, but "protest" is all right; 
"democracy" is forbidden, but "anarchy" and "revolution" are acceptable. 
On MSN Space, Chinese bloggers cannot use the name of their own 
president, but can comment on Tony Blair. "Tiananmen" cannot be mentioned.

A Microsoft spokesman said the restrictions were the price the company 
had to pay to spread the positive benefits of blogs and online messaging.

"Even with the filters, we're helping millions of people communicate, 
share stories, share photographs and build relationships. For us, that 
is the key point here," Adam Sohn, a global sales and marketing director 
at MSN, told the Associated Press news agency.

For the Chinese government, which employs an estimated 30,000 internet 
police, the restrictions are an extension of a long-standing policy to 
control the web so that it can be used by businesses but not by 
political opponents.

For Microsoft, it appears to be a concession to authoritarianism on the 
net. It comes only months after Microsoft's boss, Bill Gates, praised 
China's leaders, who have mixed market economics with rigid political 
control. "It is a brand new form of capitalism, and as a consumer it's 
the best thing that ever happened," he said.

Along with a throng of other net giants, Microsoft is trying to make 
inroads into China's fast-growing internet market, expected to top 100 
million users this year. Only the United States has more people online, 
but Mr Gates admitted this year that his company was underperforming in 

Microsoft is not alone in accepting censorship requests from China. The 
free-speech group, Reporters Without Borders, says Yahoo has a similar 
policy. The group said any justification for collaborating with Chinese 
censorship based on obeying local laws did "not hold water". The 
multinationals must "respect certain basic ethical principles" wherever 
they operated.

China's information industry ministry, meanwhile, has ordered owners of 
blogs and bulletin boards to register their sites by the end of this 
month or have them shut down.

The ministry's website said: "The internet has profited many people, but 
it also has brought many problems, such as sex, violence and feudal 
superstitions and other harmful information that has seriously poisoned 
people's spirits."

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