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I doubt Microsoft's hip red-headed advocate, Lauren, would be thrilled with Microsoft's decision to support Chinese censorship.  (Source: Microsoft)

Censorship does little to help with social problems and paves the way for government attacks on citizens.  (Source: Cameron Cardow)
Color me critical of Microsoft's support of silencing internet freedoms

I find myself surprised.  After applauding much of its recent work, I find one of Microsoft's crucial recent decisions alarming.

I've been very impressed with Microsoft of late in terms of its products.  Windows 7 is terrific and has been my primary operating system since last fall.  The Windows 7 Series phone OS looks great and I'm considering porting some of my iPhone titles I'm developing with my friend to it (my take on the platform's criticisms: the lack of copy and paste will soon be remedied and the multi-tasking support is disappointing, but forgivable, given the processing power Microsoft looks to be wielding).  And I can't help but be pleased with Microsoft efforts to finally support cutting edge internet standards with Internet Explorer 9.  Even the company's ads have improved (Laptop Hunters or I'm  a PC, anyone?).

Microsoft is carrying out a brilliant business campaign -- that much is for sure.  And earlier this month it made another smart business decision.  It voiced its support for Chinese internet censorship, with CEO Steve Ballmer vowing to stick it out in China even if Google leaves. 

This week tensions flared between Google and China and it looks like Google will indeed be walking away from its 31.3 percent stake in the Chinese search market.  That's over 100 million customers Google is likely to lose.  And Microsoft -- while it has virtually no search engine market share in China -- could snatch up much of that business with its new Bing search engine, both in the desktop and mobile sector.

In the short term, the move is a brilliant decision from a purely financial standpoint.  However, I feel it is a poor decision morally and will hurt Microsoft's business in the long run.

I thorough understand censorship is not always a black and white issue.  I can certainly understand why the U.S. government blocks certain materials like child pornography -- and why the Chinese government does so as well.  Ultimately, though, I think censorship is a poor tactic.  Trying to hide stuff from people will only make the situation worse. 

If content is blatantly illegal (i.e. terrorist materials or child pornography) the government should merely monitor it and prosecute those accessing or uploading it.  Of course you could accidentally access such content if it was uncensored, but there's ways to reasonably approach that as well.  One time might be an accident, but offenders are unlikely to just check out those sites once.

Censorship, on the other hand, actually decreases the chance to catch people participating in crime.  And it likely does little to dissuade people from criminal activity.  Further, it raises the probability that legitimate content will be blocked. 

Finally, by censoring materials a government opens a dangerous door.  As more materials, including legitimate ones get censored, the government gains the ability to arbitrarily prosecute its people -- particularly those who are critical of the political part in power.  Without a populist voice of reproach, abusive systems like dictatorships can easily arise.

Censorship is a slippery slope, one that the U.S. is struggling with today.  Our embrace of mild censorship has come at a cost.  One need only look to Texas's pending textbook reform that looks to virtually wipe founding father Thomas Jefferson from the history books to see that (the Texas school board considers Jefferson a dangerous radical for supporting separation of church and state).

However, China has long since fallen much farther down that slope.  Today a great deal of content is blocked in China, including legitimate adult entertainment, information on political and religious movements, and criticisms of the government.

There's an old saying "Freedom isn't free."

Google will certainly pay for defying China.  Business-wise it made a terrible decision in the short run.  In the long run, though, it may win as it is proving itself a moral leader and setting itself up for respect in the free market.   Microsoft has done the exact opposite -- made a wise short term decision, but compromised its morals.

For that reason I can't help by join Google President Sergey Brin in saying Microsoft, I'm very disappointed in you.

Update: Mar. 24, 2010 12:20 p.m.

I had a few additional comments and clarifications I would like to make on this topic.  First of all, as some readers accurately point out Google cooperates with censorship in other nations such as France, Thailand, and Turkey.  My point was never to say that Google is perfect or give a general analysis on Google on censorship.  Rather, I argue that in this particular case Google may the right decision and Microsoft made the wrong one.

Secondly, I'd like to state that I bear Microsoft no ill will.  I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for both it and Google's unique roles in the technology industry. I still think it made a poor decision though.

Thirdly, I'd like to address some justifications of the decision which I feel are inaccurate.  Some readers are commenting on the various recent China/Google pieces that Microsoft is just doing what it has to do business.  Perhaps, but by cooperating I would argue it is supporting Chinese censorship. 

Next, some argue that other companies that contract China for parts or the American public, which buys Chinese goods is equally liable.  This is very inaccurate, in my opinion. 

Parts manufacturers are at best marginally associated with Chinese censorship (perhaps via the fact that they pay taxes).  However, working with Chinese manufacturers is dramatically different from working with China to censor information in the form of internet searches.  Microsoft's actions are an example of direct participation in censorship.  I would never begrudge Microsoft's Zune for using Chinese parts, but directly participating in censorship is a poor strategy.

Lastly, some raised the question of what I meant by "morality" or expressed surprise at my use of the word "moral".  When I say morality, I expressly mean a logic-based morality, not an emotional one, as a many people do who use the word.  Freedom of information is good for society in most cases from what we've seen thus far and has been an important contributor to America's greatness.  Morality should be guided by logic and common sense.  And censorship is highly illogical.


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Morals?
By ahsvguy on 3/24/2010 10:51:21 AM , Rating: 2
Is the Google pull out morals or worry of another break-in into their systems - thus losing consumer confidence that their data is secure on Google?




RE: Morals?
By Kenenniah on 3/24/2010 10:57:22 AM , Rating: 2
You don't have to do business in China to get hacked by people from China.


RE: Morals?
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/24/2010 10:59:11 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Is the Google pull out morals or worry of another break-in into their systems - thus losing consumer confidence that their data is secure on Google?


While I certainly agree that Google's motives might not be entirely altruistic, I feel this is a case where the morality of a decision is independent of the motives behind it.

You can give money to cancer research to get a tax break, but you're still making a moral decision.

Also, consider that while there will be benefits for Google from leaving China, they certainly appear outweighed by the costs.

Google made a smart decision morally, in my opinion, but a poor business move.


RE: Morals?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/24/2010 11:11:01 AM , Rating: 3
Jason you basing an argument on morality is the funniest thing I have read all week.

At least you had to the good sense to put this in the blog for a change. Your personal opinion pieces usually end up as "stories".


You know what's poor morals, Mick?
By bill4 on 3/24/2010 11:33:26 PM , Rating: 1
Your support of stealing and piracy every day through your columns.

Your support of the starvation of poor people in Africa through the rich industrial elite's global warming myth scams isn't far behind.

Your support of the censorship of the true scientists out there debunking global warming.

The true fact is everybody supports censorship, what changes is what they want censored. We have censorship everyday in America from the left like Mick. But censorship from the left isn't considered censorship for some reason. For example, has Mick ever said a word about Canada's censorship of the right with "hate speech" laws? What is the difference to what China does? China can call what they want censored "hate speech" too.

I'd be willing to bet that in fact, Mick supports "hate speech" laws, aka censorship.

We know Mick supports the health care debacle, which will force everybody to buy insurance, including those opposed on religious grounds, which is also censorship.

In short, Mick is a joke.

I dont support Chinese censorship of things political like Tienamen Square, but I certainly do support any censorship of things like pornography and child porn that may be involved here. We need more censorship of those things.

The fact is the left wants to pretend the internet is some wild west where things cant be censored. The truth is it can and should easily be censored by goverments. Just as the FCC does everday in America, for example censoring people who dont wish to disclose their advertisers.

Again I dont support Chinese political censorship, but overall China showing Google who is the boss, is almost something I can support. The West allows google to spread way too much filth. That crap wont fly in every country. You are not the boss google.

Also, remember when the Michelle Obama Chimp picture was a big scandal? Google censored that as I recall, and Mick did you write a column about how wrong they were? I bet you didn't. Where was the left on that issue? Oh yeah, silent, as they always are when they support the censoring being done.




By pugster on 3/25/2010 11:43:56 AM , Rating: 2
I totally agree with you. A search engine should give you relevant information that is important to you, not what others think it is relevant. Many Americans thinks that Tiananmen Square is an event, yet in reality it is a place.

Although google is a good search engine, it is prone to abuses. I recall a few years back, when someone search 'miserable failure' it goes to Bush's website. Do you think that search is relevant? Go to google today and type in 'chinese people' or 'christianity is' and you will see some interesting search suggestions. Go to bing and do the same thing and these suggestions are not there. Do you think it is a good thing what bing did?

Which search engine has more 'morals,' Jason?


Supporting China....
By Kenenniah on 3/24/2010 11:11:35 AM , Rating: 2
Willingness to work within the law of a particular country does not necessarily equal support of those laws.
Regardless, I find it hard to judge Microsoft too harshly. American consumers do far more to support the Chinese regime than Microsoft ever could. It's a bit hypocritical to single Microsoft out while we happily go on buying and consuming Chinese goods. If you truly want to take a stand against censorship and oppression, stop buying any products that contain Chinese parts.




Shrug
By Kenenniah on 3/24/2010 3:11:03 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Next, some argue that other companies that contract China for parts or the American public, which buys Chinese goods is equally liable. This is very inaccurate, in my opinion.

No....they just directly benefit from sweat shops, exploitation and hazardous working conditions to get lower prices. Whether directly or indrectly, spening money in China supports the government that implements oppressive policies including censorship.

quote:
Perhaps, but by cooperating I would argue it is supporting Chinese censorship.

So websites that comply with DMCA requests automatcially agree with and support that law? Any company that released information to the govenment as a result automatically agreed with the Patriot Act? You most definately do not have to agree with a law to comply with it. Just because I wear a seatbelt doesn't mean I "support" the law.

We all do have a choice however, and I believe that's more your intent. We can comply or face the consequences. In this case, Microsoft could refuse to comply and face what comes. The question still remains however what those consequences would be. Microsoft has a lot more at stake than ad revenue.

There's also the question of what good will it do. Are the Chinese people better off with or without Google and Microsoft censored or not? I don't think any of us have definitive answers there, only time will tell




By iluvdeal on 3/25/2010 2:40:49 PM , Rating: 2
What else is new? Microsoft would not be the company we've all known and loved if they followed Google and left China. That's not who they are, Microsoft will always do what's in their best financial interests.

One of Google's tenets is to do no evil, I thought that was pretty corny when I first heard it but their actions in China made me realize they were actually serious. 30% of the search engine market in China, whose internet population will only grow larger and larger each year, is a huge thing to walk away from, we're talking billions of future dollars lost for Google. I don't think any other American corporation would walk away from that much money except Google. Companies would sell their souls for what Google walked away from.




Business
By clovell on 3/26/2010 10:29:42 AM , Rating: 2
Nice to see the discussion consolidated on your blog, Jason, where we can see how you feel about it.

To my mind, Google took awhile to come to their decision. Their story began when the Chinese Government started browbeating them over licenses and such. To be sure, Google's choice was surprising. Many large companies in several business sectors have recognized that emerging markets are the key to sustaining their growth.

I'm sure that's what's on Microsoft's mind. I think they may surprise you, though. Were I Steve Ballmer (... I'd miss my beautiful hair - joking), I'd be waiting to see how this ordeal plays out with Google before I started speculation about pulling my company out of China as well.

But posts like this encourage Microsoft to think about it a bit more.




By FlyBri on 3/26/2010 6:34:45 PM , Rating: 2
I am sorry, but this is just getting way too annoying for me. Sorry to be off topic, but almost every blog I see on here recently has misspelled words, and in some cases, the wrong word altogether. Just to give you an idea from this blog alone: "I thorough understand censorship..." and "...Google may the right decision and Microsoft made the wrong one."

This is a major website that a lot of well-educated people read – be at least a little bit professional and proofread your blogs before you post them.




Wool
By Smilin on 3/24/10, Rating: 0
"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

















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