RealTime IT News

MSN China Agrees to Ban 'Freedom'

Chinese bloggers are likely choosing their words a little more carefully this week after another American Internet behemoth gave in to Beijing's restrictions regarding certain politically sensitive words.

Microsoft agreed abide by censors banning the words "freedom" and "democracy" on its Chinese internet portal, MSN China, as well as other potentially politically charged subjects such as "Taiwan independence", "human rights" and the "Dalai Lama."

The software giant would only say its MSN China portal "abides by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates," a company spokesperson told internetnews.com in an e-mailed response to queries.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to monitoring free press around the world, said it was "disgusted" that Microsoft censored its blog service.

The MSN China site is partially owned by the company's Chinese business partner, government-funded Shanghai Alliance Investment.

Asked about policies regarding restricted "political language" on its properties in any other countries, the spokespersons responded with an e-mail that quoted MSN China's Code of Conduct: "MSN abides by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates."

Microsoft said the content posted on its Spaces, a free blogging service, is the responsibility of individuals who are required to abide by MSN's Code of Conduct. China recently toughened regulations that require blog owners to register their Web journal by the end of this month, according to RSF.

Bloggers using banned words or anything illegal or violates any local and national laws receive a pop-up warning that reads: "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression."

While Microsoft said its policy require users to mind local laws, others find the conformity troubling, especially when the issue of censorship is pitted against business needs.

"The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation," the RSF said in a statement.

The not-for-profit group also chastised Yahoo recently for similar activities and restricting what people can search for and read online.

"Following Yahoo, here is a second American internet giant giving way to the Chinese authorities and agreeing to self-censorship", the group's statement continued.

According to RSF, China uses system called Night Crawler to patrol Web journals and make sure that only registered blogs are published.

"We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating."