A Microsoft representative has responded to allegations surrounding the closure of a popular Chinese blog, confirming that the company did take the blog offline on New Years Eve.
Hosted on MSN Spaces, Zhao Jin's blog was removed by Microsoft in an attempt to continue "ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms, and industry practices." Jin, whom had posted critical pieces of recent Chinese government activity, has now resumed blogging on a different service.
The incident, discovered by Rebecca MacKinnon, exposes the levels of censorship enforced by MSN on Chinese users. Phrases like "Falun Gong" appear un-acceptable, and return an error message. Similarly, discussion of 'Tibet Independence' appears equally un-acceptable.
Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble, whom, in his personal capacity, appeared disappointed at his company's actions, described the situation as a 'slippery slope' and said he disagreed with the MSN team being used as a ' state-run thug'. However, product manager for MSN Spaces, Michael Connolly, acknowledged the difficulties of running a service in China, and highlighted the fact that the Chinese government still controls speech, in terms of what is permissible for discussion.
Connolly justifies the continued censorship in China, arguing that MSN Spaces are not the only people to do it, and that if companies want to operate in China, this is what they must do. Indeed, Microsoft is not alone in letting down Chinese internet users. Last year, on evidence provided by Yahoo, a man was convicted and sentenced to 10 years forced labour for circulating emails about the Tianamen square massacre. Yahoo used a similar excuse of 'complying with local laws'.
The issue, as MacKinnon rightly points out, is one of trust and respect for human rights. If we cannot trust Western companies to act ethically, morally, abroad, can we trust them in our home countries? Sacrificing free speech for profits is a dangerous game to play.