Microsoft's Chinese portal censors blogs
Terms such as 'democracy,' 'human rights' reported barred
Updated: 9:41 p.m. ET June 13, 2005
SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. is cooperating with China's government to censor the company's newly launched Chinese-language Web portal, a spokesman for the tech giant said.
The policy affects Web logs, or blogs, created through the MSN Spaces service, said Adam Sohn, a global sales and marketing director at MSN.
Microsoft and its government-funded Chinese business partner work with authorities to omit certain forbidden language, Sohn said, declining to provide specific examples.
"I don't have access to the list at this point so I can't really comment specifically on what's there," he told The Associated Press.
On Monday, Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, said bloggers were not allowed to post terms to MSN Spaces such as "democracy," "human rights" and "Taiwan independence." Attempts to enter those words were said to generate a message saying the language was prohibited.
MSN Spaces, which offers free blog space, is connected to Microsoft's MSN China portal. The portal was launched on May 26, and some 5 million blogs have since been created, Microsoft said.
(MSNBC content is distributed by MSN. MSNBC itself is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)
China's government encourages Internet use for business and education but tries to ban access to material deemed subversive.
It also recently demanded that Web site owners register with authorities by June 30 or face fines.
Chinese censors scour Internet bulletin boards and blogs for sensitive material, and block access to violators. Sites that let the public post comments are told to censor themselves or face penalties.
Sohn said heavy government censorship is accepted as part of the regulatory landscape in China, and the world’s largest software company believes its services still can foster expression in the country.
"Even with the filters, we're helping millions of people communicate, share stories, share photographs and build relationships. For us, that is the key point here," he said.
Tala Dowlatshahi, a spokeswoman for the international media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, said such arrangements are common when large technology companies do business in China.
The journalists' group has sent letters to the presidents of Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Cisco Systems and other companies urging executives to pressure the Chinese government for reforms on free expression.
But the tempting market for Chinese consumers can quiet such pleas, Dowlatshahi said.
"In terms of the reality of the situation, those business deals are going to continue as globalization expands," she said. "But we want to make sure that pressure is being put on the companies to pressure the Chinese government to ensure a more democratic process."
Sohn said filters on domestic products also prevent some language — generally profane or ******ly explicit references — from being posted to the Web.
"We're in business in lots of countries. I think every time you go into a market you are faced with a different regulatory environment and you have to go make a choice as a business," he said.
MSN China is a joint venture with Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd., an investment company funded by the Chinese government. Shanghai Alliance invests in new economic development in Shanghai and other parts of China.
China's estimated online population is 87 million, second only to the United States.