Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Great (fire)Wall of China

The blogging world has been turned upside down over reports that Microsoft and Google (amongst many other companies, for a list look here) have bowed to the Chinese government in their effort to curtail free speech and post only 'appropriate' content on their blogs on MSN spaces and are treated to only those news pages that have been stripped off sensitive content. It has been reported that sensitive words such as "democracy" or "human rights" result in error messages and do not show up in posts (I am not sure if this is in the title of the post or in the body, reports vary) on the chinese version of MSN Spaces. Google too has suitably altered their news pages so that they do not provide the 'dissident' chinese with 'inflammatory and incidiary' content. They have joined hands with the Chinese government in their effort to build the The Great (fire)Wall of China.

Robert Scoble, numero uno blogger of Microsoft defends his company here
Rebecca MacKinnon rips apart his arguments here and makes many valid points about Chinese culture and is sort of inline with a point that I made many posts ago of the lack of effort in understanding foreign cultures. Read this, its very interesting. There is also an update clarifying a few issues [here].
Dan Gillmor asks - "Microsoft and Google, like so many others, rose to enormous wealth and influence by leveraging the freedom they enjoy in the United States. They may be serving their shareholders' interests. But what they're doing is not honorable. Why does money trump honor? Is this really the American way?". Listen to his post here

Given that "MSN Spaces is not exactly my idea of a new form of journalism that will set the world free and change the geopolitical landscape for decades to come" (from the comments section in Dan's blog) - I agree with this point but one should look at the bigger picture of cencorship of speech and access rights to any and all information and that of corporations siding with this form of oppression and making money in the process.

Meanwhile, Rick Segal sighs and says, "Its hard to be an American"

To end it all, a very nice wrap up by Shelley Powers [here]

Some people have started to test how free is speech on the web here in the US and have discovered that MSN spaces also clamps down on usage of certain words, words that are synonymous with the porn industry. Certain combinations are allowed and certain others aren't. People who want to get around will always will. Scoble asks if its cencosrship if I can still get my point across without using sensitive words. I think banning certain words (I am talking about the US MSN Spaces) is okay given that the words deal mostly with the porn industry and MSN spaces have no age verification scheme in place and is accessible even my pre-teens and kids. If innocent looking combinations are not allowed to pass through, then I guess one better swallow the pill and re-write your post title - its the intention matters here - a scammer can have a perfectly innocent title and banned content in the body while normal bloggers can use 'dangerous' titles for socially sensitive topics such as "Prostitution and the Law".

I also am of the opinion that MSFT took a monetary decision that allowed them to do business in a new country - they are not in the business of revoltion but in that of computer technology which they want to push into an emerging market. Operating in a different country means that you obey the law of the land or just pack up and go home. First amendment activists often forget that the same oppression makes it possible for Chinese goods to be half the price of US produced goods and americans have embraced these goods making Wal-mart, Apple and dozens of other companies very profitable in the process. Three guesses why US trade deficit with China is so high.

You can't oppress them in one way and balk at oppressing them in an other way. And wondering whether the average citizen is truly free on account of whether he can include certain combinations of words on MSN spaces blog posts and using that as being representative of his right to free speech is rather lame.

Go here to read Dare Obssanjo's (he works for MSN Spaces) post on this issue. It clarifies what content they are exactly monitoring and what it means to operate a common platform for users of all ages across countries and languages when each one's definitions of appropriateness is defined by prevalent local culture.

I am going to put an end to this topic. Enough said!

1 comment:

Smitha said...

They hear what you say, then they watch how you do business. From there, it's pretty easy to figure out what your real values are. Thats the Chinese way.

The ban on the blogs by chinese govt is raising a huge uproar in the world of blogging. Though I prefer not to discuss the chinese policies. You should obey the rules of the land you are in. I don't really see how one cannotby pass these rules. A chinese user can look at blogspot pages by viewing google cache or may be find another way out.

"The Net interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it."