One of the Internet’s great promises is that the free expression and the free exchange of ideas it allows will lead to greater freedom and democracy across the world.
Dictators and authoritarian governments hate the Internet for that very reason, and do their best to try and squelch its use. That’s to be expected. But what’s not to be expected is that Microsoft would play along with them, and happily do their bidding.
That’s what’s going on in China right now. In fact, Microsoft may even be more zealous in squashing people’s opinions than is the Chinese government itself.
In China, Microsoft operates an MSN Spaces site, and Microsoft has been heavily censoring people’s posts on it. How heavily? Well, if you want to use the words “freedom” “democracy” or “human rights” in a blog, you’re out of luck. A Microsoft filter will refuse to let you post.
When asked why Microsoft is playing footsie with China’s authoritarian government, Brooke Richardson, MSN lead product manager, issued this statement: “MSN abides by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates.”
It’s bad enough that Microsoft is doing the Communist government’s bidding. But, in fact, Microsoft appears to go even beyond government censorship, says Isaac Mao, who according to Wired News is a tech entrepreneur, and one of China’s first bloggers. Mao told Wired News that even the government doesn’t ban words like “freedom” and “democracy.”
It’s clear that all Microsoft is thinking about here is the almighty dollar — well, make that the almighty yuan. But history has taught us that there’s a morality beyond the dollar bill, and that ultimately businesses will be held to account for their relationships with dictators and authoritarians.
Which side of history will Microsoft be on? For now, sadly, the answer is the wrong one.
What do you think about Microsoft’s censoring of blogs in China?