Update on Microsoft’s deletion of Anti’s blog

tiananmen microsoft.jpg
Image lifted from this blog.

Rebecca MacKinnon has an update that cites a wonderful post from Imagethief. He really captures my own feelings about this, better than I ever could.

As for the “obeying local laws defense”, I have criticized that in this space previously. Certainly China is going to impose unique constraints on foreign companies operating within its borders, and I don’t think the solution is necessarily for those companies to quit China (not least because my job depends on them being here). But the question that situations –and excuses– like this raise for American tech-media companies is this: where is your ethical horizon? Every country has its own laws and regulations. Some are more egregious than others. Some are indefensible. When do a company’s values supercede its desire to make money and generate shareholder return? Does that point exist in the absence of public scrutiny? Perhaps some American tech-media companies would like to articulate what kind of “local laws and regulations” would push them too far?

I’ve had this debate countless times with several people. I guess the bottom-line question is, when is it time to say No? Is profit the only factor to consider? If so, is IBM (and the Bush family) beyond criticism for doing business with the Nazis long after it was clear that their intentions were undisguisedly evil? If so, we have no right to criticize China for cuddling up with Mugabe and Saddam Hussein and other mass murderers. After all, it’s strictly business, even if the consequences of this business could lead to human suffering and death.

That’s no exaggeration. Let’s see what Microsoft’s most famous blogger has to say:

I have been talking to lots of people today, though, inside and outside of Microsoft. In every instance they asked me to keep those conversations confidential. Why? Cause we’re talking about international relations here and the lives of employees. I wish I could go into it more than that, but I can’t. Not yet. See, it’s real easy as Americans to rattle the door and ask for change, but we don’t live there. Saying “give them the finger” isn’t that easy when there are real human lives at stake. And I don’t need to spell out what I’m talking about here, do I?

No Robert, you don’t need to spell it out, but maybe you should, because your readers in America really might not know just how risky things can be in China for those who go against the machine. People can be arrested and even tortured and, as you strongly imply (“there are real human lives at stake”), their lives put at risk. Yet we are bending over backwards to accommodate the perpetrators of the repression. As Imagethief so eloquently says, is there no place where we draw a line? Do we obey every law and regulation of the local government even if it goes contrary to basic human rights and ethics?

There are all sorts of sub-issues here, most of them leading back to the rights of a company to do business as it pleases. And I don’t question the company’s rights to do it. They have that right. But I also have a right to say they are doing something that I believe is blatantly wrong. I have the right to say that just because they can do it doesn’t mean they should.

In the earlier thread on this topic, a commenter writes:

So what you’re saying is that once you’ve posted something, the provider (owner) of the forum and property being used to disseminate what you’ve posted has no right to remove that posting, even if he has reserved that right in your initial agreement? Ultimately this means that the right to self-expression (or non-expression) of one party trumps that of another.

No, I’ve never said that. But if you are running a blog service and you take it on yourself to delete entire blogs because you’re nervous about or displeased with their content (presuming it is not criminal, like child porn or selling drugs), then you are definitely in the wrong business and you’d better be damned well-prepared to take the heat from your action.

These issues are being heatedly discussed in the comments to both MacKinnon’s and Scoble’s posts. Frankly, I am amazed at just how much slack we are willing to give corporations when it comes to making profits. I know, profits are good, free enterprise is essential. But if jewelry companies are buying products made at the needless expense of Chinese miners’ lives, or if Microsoft is expanding its empire by complying (and over-complying) with repressive laws, I think it deserves to be exposed and discussed. As Rebecca says at the end of her great post:

If these American technology companies have so few moral qualms about giving in to Chinese government demands to hand over Chinese user data or censor Chinese people’s content, can we be sure they won’t do the same thing in response to potentially illegal demands by an over-zealous government agency in our own country? Can we trust that they’re not already doing so?

When it comes down to interests of government vs. interests of the individual it seems pretty clear where their default position lies.

Will users and investors push for an attitude change? Can we convince them that disrespecting the universal human rights of users anywhere and everywhere will be bad for their business in the long run? Or will we all sit there like frogs in water being brought very slowly to a boil?

Not all of us. But again, I’m amazed at how many are willing to not only sit there like frogs, but who actually seem to be delighting in the water’s rising temperature.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

I think adminstratating a blog is a very frivolous thing to do and is only done by big losers. I think it does not matter too much if his blog is shut off.

January 5, 2006 @ 8:11 pm | Comment


Are you even more stupid than we thought?

If blogs are administered by “big losers”, then why do you bother commenting so much on this one? Are you an even bigger loser?

QED, basic logic is not taught in Chinese schools.

January 5, 2006 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

Giggle….HX, whether you are real or fake….and I suspect the latter, he’s got you there.

January 5, 2006 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

If these American technology companies have so few moral qualms…can we be sure they won’t do the same thing in response to potentially illegal demands by an over-zealous government agency in our own country? Can we trust that they’re not already doing so?

I’d say it’s a fair bet that they are already doing so. I discovered two years after flying JetBlue to Denver that JetBlue had practically volunteered to hand over all its customer data (name, address, credit card, etc.) to DHS without informing anyone.
My response is to have nothing more to do with JetBlue, but given their profitability, nobody else really cares.

Of course companies will help turn America into a police state if there’s money involved. They have in the past, as you pointed out with Nazi Germany and other regimes, and they will in the future.

Now for the depressing part: I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as everyone has 500 channels, cheap beer and two cars in the driveway, most Americans don’t care if their civil liberties disappear.

January 5, 2006 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

HX, is that a wind-up? If so, it’s not up to your usual standards. If you believe administering (by which, I take it you mean “writing”) a blog is frivolous, then commenting on one is surely masturbation without climax. What does that say about you? By the way, I am sure the millions of Chinese blogging away on Chinese hosts would disagree with you.

Boo: I kind of fear you are right. Furthermore, the organizations that do take up the civil liberties banner, such as ACLU, EFF etc., are usual portrayed as crazed lunatics from the leftist fringe. Sad, really.

The think about civil liberties is, to interpret a famous parable, that you don’t miss them until they finally come for *you*. By which time there is probably no one left to say anything.

January 6, 2006 @ 12:22 am | Comment

I guess the redline is to call for actions, such as strike, boycott, overthrow, etc. If microsoft does not take down Anti’s blog, the whole MSN space could be taken down. Just like what happened to Google.

Google fought for a few days and it surrendered.

ESWN is not blocked in China. If chinese media can behave like ESWN, I am pretty satisfied. Also, ESWN is much balanced about China than other western media and blogs, including this blog.

ESWN is trying to understand situation. Western media has already had its verdict. They just fit facts into indict statement. That’s why I do not see big difference from CCP’s propaganda.

January 6, 2006 @ 4:49 am | Comment

Of course ESWN’s not blocked in China. But neither is this one! I must be balanced and fair as well, no?

Look, if China had insisted MS shut down Anti’s blog, I’d be a lot more forebearing. The problem here is MS’s willingness to second-guess the Party and kiss its ass.

January 6, 2006 @ 4:59 am | Comment

I’m sure, in addition to second-guessing the Party, there was a marketing decision. In fact, I suspect the marketing decision was higher priority than the Party decision.

I just went to msnspaces.com and looked at about 40 of the blogs there at random. The main audience/user base seems to be teenage girls talking about their lives. My sample may have been too limited, but that’s definitely what it looked like.

This is likely the kind of space that MS is trying to create, and the kind of customer base they are trying to reach.

So, Richard, as a marketing professional, how do you handle it when you’re creating a lighthearted free space mainly for a young audience to talk about exams, studying kendo, TV shows, music, and a famous controversial blogger jumps in with political commentary?
You know he’ll attract similar bloggers, and this has the chance to change the entire nature of the space, you’ll be spending money on servers for people you’re not trying to reach, and you’ll probably have problems with frequent DOS attacks and the Great Firewall kicking in at random. In other words, this has the chance to wreck what you were trying to create.

I note that this blogger is on the internet still, no penalties. Since we’re talking about basic freedoms here, there is the freedom of association, and that includes the freedom to choose who not to associate with.

January 6, 2006 @ 6:29 am | Comment

In the NYT article:

here is the money quote:
Ms. Richardson of Microsoft said Mr. Zhou’s site was taken down after Chinese authorities made a request through a Shanghai-based affiliate of the company.

That kinda changes the complexion, doesn’t it?

January 6, 2006 @ 7:18 am | Comment

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that it does!

January 6, 2006 @ 8:36 am | Comment

So, Richard, as a marketing professional, how do you handle it when
you’re creating a lighthearted free space mainly for a young audience to
talk about exams, studying kendo, TV shows, music, and a famous
controversial blogger jumps in with political commentary?

Where/when did Microsoft ever say that was what Spaces was about? Show me, and I’ll reconsider. Seriously.

January 6, 2006 @ 8:42 am | Comment

Interesting. It’s a shame Microsoft waited until a storm was kicked up – I guess it shows how bad their reputation is that we were so quick to assume they’d acted pre-emptively.

Now assuming that this statement is correct ^_^ I’m willing to say I misjudged MS. However I still don’t like them 😉

January 6, 2006 @ 9:56 am | Comment

“There are all sorts of sub-issues here, most of them leading back to the rights of a company to do business as it pleases. And I don’t question the company’s rights to do it. They have that right.”

Ye gads, richard, you’ve veered to the right of me!

January 6, 2006 @ 4:59 pm | Comment


Long-term profitability is the test of being in the right or wrong business ;), and all firms need to be ready to take heat for their actions, just like individuals. I doubt Spaces is yet profitable, seeing how new it is, so it’s reasonable for MSN to keep their baby from being knifed (yes, I know where that expression comes from).

Now, this is just quibbling, but how can something—like pulling Anti’s blog‐done according to rights be wrong? It might be distasteful, but wrong? I know that’s mere symantic gymnastics, but I enjoy such activities. 🙂

Of course, by publicly and vigorously discussing it, concepts of right and rights can change, so (alluding to something you wrote in the last discussion) I’m certainly glad you’re questioning MS’ actions.

January 6, 2006 @ 7:45 pm | Comment

Microsoft, censorship and China

The story of Microsoft blocking China blogger Anti’s MSN Spaces site is refusing to go away. Rebecca MacKinnon has clearly touched a nerve, with 331 blogs – up from 97 three days ago – now linking (see Technorati) to her post that’s got everyone sayi…

January 6, 2006 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

That kinda changes the complexion, doesn’t it?
Posted by: eswn at January 6, 2006 07:18 AM

Not for me.

What sort of request? If it was a formal legal request, why would they bother going through an affiliate rather than to HQ?

If there is no formal request, then it’s still a matter of self-censorship, even if Microsoft is now hearing whispering in their ears. Sets a pretty damn low hurdle, if all it takes is a whisper to make ’em jump.

January 7, 2006 @ 6:13 am | Comment

accoring to Brooke Richardson, the group msn product mananage, Beijing leant on Microsoft to shut anti down.


Richardson says that anti broke the ‘must obey local laws’ proviso on his blog.

January 7, 2006 @ 8:56 am | Comment


the difference to me is this:

originally, i thought that some low-level MSN Spaces employee in China took the liberty of interpreting the notice about coverage on Beijing News to delete Anti’s blog. that was appalling. i don’t want to see these droids running around at MSN Spaces or any other outfit making these kinds of suppositions.

based upon the Richardson statement, a MSN Spaces employee took dictation from the Chinese government via a MS affiliate to delete Anti’s blog. At least this droid did not have a mind of his/her own. The question now becomes whether MSN Spaces should be taking dictation versus letting an employee act as super-judge and super-interpreter of Chinese law. that is why everything changes.

January 7, 2006 @ 10:23 am | Comment

Not really.

The sysadmins, that you so admiringly call “droids”, still probably have the de facto power to yank a blog at will. Their superiors probably can still yank a blog at will and obviously did based upon whispers that are extra-legal.

“Sure have a purty community there, sure would be a shame if anything were to happen to it. Why don’t ya do me a favour and do X? Just to make sure accidents don’t happen.”

You still have some Microsoft employee acting as super-judge and super-interpreter of Chinese law, since it’s quite clear that the appropriate Judges of Chinese law were never involved. {And I’m in the middle of conversations with interested parties on the generics of the legal handling of these Internet Content Provider cases, and it’s looking pretty shaky as well for “the rule of law” in China.}

Whether it’s “pro-active fear of whispers” or “re-active to whispers” self-censorship, it’s still self-censorship by some level of the bureaucracy at Microsoft, since the legal protocols of State/Party censorship were obviously not followed.

January 7, 2006 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

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