Microsoft Plays Footsie with Dictators

by Preston Gralla

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?


2005-06-22 00:40:04
Agreed, but there is a larger problem
It's easy for us to single out Microsoft as censoring content to stay on China's good side, we can't ignore that fact that Yahoo! signed China's Orwellian "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for China Internet Industry".

Preston, I'm in agreement with you 100%, but there are a few curve balls here.

There is a much larger problem than Microsoft's oppression of Chinese bloggers, and that is our own tacit endorsement of oppressive work environments in places like Mexico and China. When you buy one of those super-cheap systems at the local computer store, it is usually coming to you from a developing country. From an oppression perspective, I think we're probably all on the wrong side of history. Chances are good that the computer you are using right now was touched by low-wage slaves. Maybe it isn't directly relevant, but before we wag our collective fingers at Microsoft, we should look at the oppression that we tacitly endorse when we purchase cheap hardware.

2005-06-22 06:03:08
It's one thing to be doing business within a country controlled by authoritarians (that's really a good thing), but to actually help enforce the ruler's twisted worldview on the people?


2005-06-22 10:04:17
Viet Name too
Don't forget, Gates just met with the Prime Minister of Viet Name
2005-06-22 10:05:03
Viet Nam too
Don't forget, Gates just met with the Prime Minister of Viet Nam
2005-06-27 22:17:42
Agreed, but there is a larger problem
I am not sure I want to buy into the idea that bigger-picture, more general, closer-to-home issues trump specific issues elsewhere. We presumably wouldn't chastise Mother Therasa for not having devoted her life to defeating Romanian dictatorship.

Sure, we want to avoid hypocrisy. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilence.