[Reader-list] Microsoft helps China to censor bloggers
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
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
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
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
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