The software giant agrees to ban "democracy" and "freedom" in China.
"Where do you want to go today?"
That was Microsoft's slogan in the mid-1990s, one that evoked the
unlimited possibilities inherent in the age of the Internet and the
software revolution. The answer to that question today would be,
"hopefully not where they discuss 'freedom,' 'democracy' and 'human
rights,' " at least not if you expect to use Microsoft's new portal in
The software giant has just bowed to the Chinese government by banning
these words. If you type them on Microsoft's new portal, a message
appears telling you to try different ones. If this weren't insulting
enough, the message actually says, according to news reports, "this
item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please
enter a different word for this item."
To be fair to Microsoft, it is not alone. Yahoo! and Google have also
caved in to China. Google chose last year to omit sources the Chinese
government does not like from its Google News China edition, saying
that it didn't make sense to provide a link to sites that would
probably be blank anyway. All of these Internet companies make the
point that it is better to make a compromise, gain a foothold in
China, and then offer China's masses the smorgasbord of information
that is out there.
That view got backing from none other than Colin Powell, who happened
to be in Hong Kong last week as this story was breaking. Microsoft
figured it is "best for them and better for Chinese citizens to get
95% of the loaf," the former Secretary of State said at a conference
when we asked him what he thought of an American company banning the
word "freedom." While acknowledging that "Microsoft, and Google, and
other information providers, have had to make a compromise that we
wouldn't find acceptable in the United States," Mr. Powell said, "I
think it's probably best for them to make that kind of compromise."
Mr. Powell added that he thought the Chinese government was fighting a
losing battle in thought control over the Internet, at least "if
Chinese teenagers are like the teenagers in my family."
It is admittedly difficult for China's government to block Internet
content from its estimated 87 million users, a number that is
growing. But it is a lot easier if it has the cooperation of the
industry. These corporations might also remember that Beijing needs
their business. The Internet is where demand and supply meet these
days, and China's leaders need economic growth to continue if they are
not to face large-scale upheaval. Certainly the Microsofts and Googles
might try to drive a harder bargain.
Copyright 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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