Microsoft censors Chinese version of its blog tool

RSF is upset to learn that Microsoft censors the Chinese version of its blog tool, MSN Spaces. The system automatically rejects certain words, including "democracy" and "Dalai Lama".


"Following Yahoo!, here is a second American Internet giant giving way to the Chinese authorities and agreeing to self-censorship", RSF said.

"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. Does that mean that if the authorities asked Microsoft to provide information about Chinese cyber-dissidents using its services that it would agree to do so, on the basis that it is 'legal'? "We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whichever country they are operating," the organisation added.

As reported by several news agencies, RSF has confirmed that when a Chinese blogger attempts to post a message containing such terms as "democracy", "Dalai Lama", "Falungong", "4 June" (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), "China + corruption", or "human rights", a warning message displays saying, "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression."

Generally, "subversive" messages are displayed on Chinese-hosted forums and blogs, but the banned words are automatically replaced with blank spaces.

The Chinese version of the MSN portal, along with the blog tool, were launched as a joint venture between Microsoft and a local state-controlled company, Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd (SAIL).

The Chinese authorities are trying to impose self-censorship on all search engines and blog tools that wish to operate on its territory. Yahoo!, which was the first, agreed to remove all "subversive" news and information from its search results (see IFEX alert of 3 December 2003). Despite repeated requests from RSF, the company's management has declined to discuss the issue.

Google, which has so far refused to censor its search engine, now looks likely to follow in the footsteps of its competitor. When the company announced it was opening an office in China, RSF wrote to its two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, asking them to respond clearly to the question, "Would you agree to censorship of your search engine if Beijing asked you to?" Google never replied (see alert of 26 May 2005).

In December 2003, RSF also wrote to Microsoft CEO Steven A.Ballmer and founder Bill Gates to bring to their attention their freedom of expression responsibilities, particularly in a country like China. This appeal, like the others, went unanswered.