January 10, 2006

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There's been much bally-hoo over Microsoft's closing of Michael Anti's popular blog on MSN spaces in China. It's a nice combination - the evil of China's firewall and Microsoft's rolling over at the first instance. That said, as a corporate decision it isn't so hard to understand. Microsoft is a company, not a public service. The same is true of Yahoo. Bear that in mind and the whole dispute isn't about free speech but what companies operating in oppressive regimes need to operate. It is not a black and white question - oil companies operate in questionable regimes all the time as well. The moral questions posed are for each company to face and answer. But place yourself in the shoes of the Microsoft flunky who received the request to shut down Anti's site. What would you do?

Let me set some homework. What's the difference between the Anti incident and the rolling over by Hong Kong ISP's in handing over the identities of 22 alleged file sharers? One ISP intends to fight the demand, but three of them have meekly rolled over. It will be an interesting test of Hong Kong's Privacy of Data Ordinance, not to mention a host of other legal issues. It seems Hong Kong is leading the world in the prosecution of file sharers. How do we get the 14 WTO protesters onto a file-sharing program?

While we like to think the internet is free and liberal, it is not. Companies and governments are involved. The internet hasn't changed the rules - we are learning it is subject to the same rules as the real world. That's a shock for some.

posted by Simon on 01.10.06 at 12:47 PM in the Hong Kong category.


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Not so much a shock but a continued disappointment. And, as Will notes, much of the outcry isn't about the actions themselves but that the companies in question haven't really described their guidelines and limits. I really wouldn't want to see MS, Yahoo or Cisco pull out of China. But I would like to see some clear statement of principles - both for end-users and investors.

posted by: myrick on 01.10.06 at 01:15 PM [permalink]

How about "Caveat emptor"?

posted by: Simon on 01.10.06 at 01:18 PM [permalink]

Your homework is pretty easy:
1) The ISP case is being decided in a court of law. Anti is not being charged with any crime, and Microsoft has not been threatened with legal action.
2) The ISP case is local to HK. HK citizens may have done something illegal in HK, and so their ISPs may be required to comply with the order. The Anti case is about a Chinese-language website which is hosted in the US by a US company being shut down on the request of a Chinese government.
3) The ISPs want to protect their customers - and are only complying with the law. MS want to protect their relationship with China, and don't care about their customer Anti.

I agree it isn't hard to understand *why* MS pulled the blog, the question is whether they were *right* to. Where does MS draw the line? If China asks for a Traditional Chinese weblog to be pulled will they? (A lot of Taiwanese users would be interested in that answer.) What about an English weblog which is critical of the PRC?

posted by: David on 01.10.06 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

Simon, 'caveat emptor', meaning stockholder, end-user, or government?

posted by: yuanme on 01.11.06 at 12:34 AM [permalink]

You ask: What would you do?
Answer: I'd refuse.
My question: What request?

posted by: andy on 01.12.06 at 03:05 PM [permalink]

Andy, I put to you that's too trite. If you are working as a manager in a business, simply refusing on principle may be something you choose to do, but there are other considerations, not least your business model, your potential impact on other customers etc. Pre-empting likely action is understandable.

The point is things are not black and white, but people prefer to ignore the shades of gray.

posted by: Simon on 01.12.06 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

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