Tuesday, June 14

Public Relations Nightmare of the Year

Microsoft joins hands with Yahoo!, Google to censor China's web (AFP):

BEIJING (AFP) -- Users of Microsoft's new China-based Internet portal have been blocked from using the words "democracy", "freedom" and "human rights" in an apparent move by the US software giant to appease Beijing. Other words that could not be used on Microsoft's free online blog service MSN Spaces include "Taiwan independence" and "demonstration". Bloggers who enter such words or other politically charged or pornographic content are prompted with a message that reads: "This item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please enter a different word for this item". Officials at Microsoft's Beijing offices refused to comment. Internet sites in China are strongly urged to abide by a code of conduct and self-censor any information that could be viewed by the government as politically sensitive, pornographic or illegal. For many Chinese websites, such content also includes news stories that the government considers unfavorable or does not want published.

Never underestimate the reputational risk of a sleazy business relationship. This looks bad, bad, bad--and I'm trying hard not to regard Redmond as the Evil Empire this year in quite the same knee-jerk fashion I used to. It's the ultimate victory of "content" over the free press. Whatever sells and keeps the government taking those kickbacks to maintain your franchise.

I guess in all conscience we as individual internauts ought to be boycotting all three: Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. I do love my G-mail, though, and Google's Blogger does host a lot of blogs that would not be welcome in their author's home country. Take Iraq4Ever, the Ba'athist insurgency blog (in Arabic). Watch out, Evan, Rummy has a tiger cage ready for you in Guantanamo.

I wonder if All The Web is ethically compromised, too? It's a nice alternative for you purists out there.

Doing business with folks desperate to do business with folks who use conscript labor and a police state to drive their free-market miracle and you, too, may wind up with main battle tanks running over your college-age kid in the public square.

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