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Microsoft… a willing partner in repression

I realise that to do business in China means having to deal with the realities of the Chinese state, but when Microsoft becomes yet another direct collaborator with Chinese repression by adjusting its blog tools to help block online speech using words such as “democracy,” “freedom,” or “human rights,” then clearly Microsoft has become a party to the trampling of human rights in China and is not just a bystander.

Next time you hear of all the philanthropic work done by MS and Bill Gates, just keep in mind that there is a very nasty flip side to the Giant from Redmond. It would appear that even Gates has a price at which his principles are clearly ‘negotiable’.

Update:: There is some question of whether or not this is actually true according to a commenter who has set up a Chinese MSN Space blog. I will try to contact Voice of America and see what they have to say.

81 comments to Microsoft… a willing partner in repression

  • Edward

    I’m no MS fan, and I don’t run any of their stuff, ever.

    That said, they are hardly more culpable than any other business that’s forced to comply with insidious regulations.

    Every corporation that pays US taxes, for example, is helping fund US imperialism abroad. They could stand up for their principles and refuse to do business in the US, but they don’t. And they shouldn’t. That’s not what a business is for.

    Businesses are forced to take their regulatory environment as a given and try to work within it to maximize profit. The problem is government, not the business’s reaction to it.

    If Microsoft refused to do business in China, you can be sure someone else would step in and fill the gap.

  • US Imperialism? And who is the US Emperor then?

    But I think there is a difference between paying taxes to a government who does things of which you do not approve (i.e. any government) and actually deciding to sell special versions of your software coded to aid and abet mass repression.

    I think selling (say) shoes in Nazi Germany in 1938 and paying taxes is materially different to a US company selling yellow cloth stars to the German government to put on the clothes of all German Jews. Or would you make the same argument that “If US Company X refused to do business in Nazi Germany, you can be sure someone else would step in and fill the gap”? Just curious.

  • eric lessard

    When I saw the story claiming that one could not post the word “freedom” on chinese MSN space blogs, I knew this anecdote had been made up. “Freedom” … please!

    Nevertheless, I checked it out and found out there are some 400 chinese MSN space blogs with one or more of the offending 3 words posted.

    So I started my own Chinese MSN space blog and tried posting the words (in Chinese). Sure enough, no pop-up warning or anything of the sort.

    A never-ending stream of inaccurate, sometimes simply falsified stories, all designed to make us see China as threatening, continues to find its way into our newspapers.

    Where do you think these stories come from?

  • Verity

    Perry – As Edward says: “Businesses are forced to take their regulatory environment as a given and try to work within it to maximize profit.”

    Surely you of all people would not disagree with this point?

    Are you suggesting that Microsoft try to change the world? Well, they have, of course, but politically? And your point about yellow stars is cowardly. You can prove anything with such dramatics. Microsoft isn’t identifying people by their ethnicity or religion.

    They’re a business, for god’s sake, Perry!

  • Verity

    Eric Lessard – thank you for your research!

    The Chinese are pragmatic if nothing else. They don’t think they can stop notions like freedom; they will accommodate themselves to them.

    And even if they were dim enough to try- which, in 2005 they would not be – then what?

    What is happening is, they are accommodating themselves to the idea of freedom instead. Ain’t the internet simply wonderful?

    As Eric says, where did this news item originate?

  • I’ve got nothing to add, aside from the fact that I really, really dislike Microsoft.

  • Edward

    Responding to Perry’s comment on imperialism.

    Imperialism: The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations.

    Hmm, nothing there about emperors…

    But seriously… I thought this was a forum full of libertarians. Do I really need to explain my reasoning here? How about “war is the health of the state.”

    There is a large and detailed corpus of libertarian scholarship that describes the US slide into empire. If you’re unfamiliar with it, start with the archives of lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com.

  • Julian Morrison

    Microsoft is a company, not a charity. They’re interested in business, and it’s not their business to save the world. Generalizing: there’s neither a need nor a duty for every single person to concern themselves with world-saving. Merely making an honest profit is enough.

    However even M$’s self-censoring blogware will help. Surely Chinese folks can find a paraphrase for freedom and/or democracy? Better a blog you have to fight to get your message out, than no blog at all.

  • How about this notion: a company’s only moral obligation is to its stockholders. As long as Microsoft is obeying the law, it should take whatever actions increase the value of its shares in the long term – and leave saving the world to the Peace Corps and Amnesty International and the Red Cross.

  • Sark

    How about this notion: a company’s only moral obligation is to its stockholders. As long as Microsoft is obeying the law

    Ok, lets see where this ends up… so by that logic, if the Chinese government decides to sub-contract the execution of dissidents to a US company, presumably seeing as that would be entirely within Chinese Law, the US company, its shareholders and its director should not be critisised for grossly immoral behaviour. Would that be your position?

  • But seriously… I thought this was a forum full of libertarians. Do I really need to explain my reasoning here? How about “war is the health of the state.”

    This is not a forum, it is a blog. Quite different dynamics, much less democratic. But yes, you certainly do have to explain your reasoning as libertarianism is (a) not such an intellectual monoculture as you think (b) many folks both who comment here and several who write here are not self-described libertarians.

    There is a large and detailed corpus of libertarian scholarship that describes the US slide into empire. If you’re unfamiliar with it, start with the archives of lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com.

    I am quite familiar with both and whilst I regard Lew Rockwell as right on regarding most economic issues, I think they and antiwar.com (particularly the later who are the pinnacle of tinfoil hat barkingmoonbat conspiracy theorists who prefer to side with fascists like Slobodan Milosovic) are intellectually bankrupt. What they have to offer is advocating amounts to a cheerful form of selective blindness followed by suicide as a viable way of dealing with the world. No thanks.

  • Ok, lets see where this ends up… so by that logic, if the Chinese government decides to sub-contract the execution of dissidents to a US company, presumably seeing as that would be entirely within Chinese Law, the US company, its shareholders and its director should not be critisised for grossly immoral behaviour. Would that be your position?

    More or less. It’s clever to use the execution of dissidents in your extraordinarily improbable example, although I would have gone with doe-eyed little mop-haired children and wayward puppies myself. If executing dissidents in a foreign country was legal for a U.S. company to do (U.S. companies still have to follow U.S. law), and if there was money to be made doing it – sure.

    And I am not saying the company should not be criticized – criticize away, fire aft cannons and bear to starboard, etc. I am saying that companies should not operate on a morality principle rather than a profit principle, as it amounts to fraud against the shareholders.

    If you don’t like the actions of a company, you are free to organize a boycott of that company, sell whatever shares you own, etc. If the company’s actions are unpopular enough such piecemeal protests will have an impact on its bottom line. I think companies should take the PR impact of their actions into account as well.

    I just think that the motive force for corporate action should be profit-seeking, not altruism or noblesse oblige.

  • Sark

    Interesting. So the state’s legality trumps morality for Bombadil. That is why I am all for sticking bombs under people’s cars when they do immoral things with the support of the state.

  • I have always thought the notion that US companies have to abide by US law overseas is bizarre, but my point is that moral accountability applies to the directors (and I suppose shareholders) of MS and they are the ones who are the target. Moral theories are not dependent on the laws of some nation state and holding people to account does not have to involve lawyers and the apparatus of states, although I would not have put it quite the way Sark does.

  • Euan Gray

    So the state’s legality trumps morality for Bombadil

    Surely Bombadil is arguing that the requirement for a corporation to make a profit trumps morality?

    EG

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The profit motive trumps everything else. Bombadil, in a way, was explaining how the world actually works, and part of how the world works is that companies and businesses tend to value profit more than morality.

    The primary motive force for corporate action is indeed profit making, not anything else. Perhaps when they want some good PR, they would help old ladies cross the street, provide funds for the needy, blah blah, but that PR is also conducted in the hopes of improving their public perception and ultimately, how much money they make.

    You may not like it, but that’s the way it is. To think otherwise is to be as blind towards the nature of man as the pacifists, socialists, and the Commies.

    Although we can hope otherwise… but look where that got the above-mentioned categories of people!

    The best recourse would be for a significant segment of consumers to boycott Microsoft products, but that would be a faint hope indeed.

    TWG

  • MikeG

    On CNN over the weekend was a studio discussion on blogging -I think someone said the chinese are world leaders in supplying software to censor the internet so perhaps we shouldn’t blame Microsoft for this one, also the chinese are heavily into Linux and Microsoft must be worried about loosing a 1 billion plus potential users/customers.

  • Praxis

    Corporations and what they are for are irrelevent. Only individual people are moral actors and thus only the actions of those making said business decisions need analysis.

    Without debating the truth or otherwise of the facts, that desicions are made which directly and knowingly contribute to the immoral actions of the leaders of the Chinese state makes the appropriate people in Microsoft a party to those actions and thus they are the ones who must be held to account.

  • Praxis

    Moreover comments saying that corporations act this way or the world actually works that way may be true but are also irrelevent. People are often murdered and raped and robbed and thus it can accuratly be said that this too is “the way the world works”. That is factual but that does not prevent moral judgements being made regarding how the world works and how the people doing those things act.

  • US Imperialism? And who is the US Emperor then?

    Crown Prince Abdullah.

    As an aside, I note that we supply him with foot soldiers to drive off his local shakedown artists, such as the ones who march into the palaces of the Emperor’s neighbors.

    No, this does not mean I think that jihadists and other Islamofascists are wonderful people. It does mean I think we’re bleeding ourselves dry in the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place and for the wrong reasons.

  • Eric Raymond made a speech to an organisation called Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, which seems relevant. Choice quote:

    We cannot leave the defense of our liberty to politicians; they thrive on slicing away bits of it in the name of any pressure group that can deliver votes. It is the duty of every citizen — and of every socially responsible programmer — not merely to passively resist the erosion of liberty, but to actively promote and extend liberty; to enlarge the private sphere; to take power away from government so that individuals and voluntary groups may peacefully work out their destinies.

  • jdallen

    If the bloggers over there are unable to figure out euphemisms or acronyms or abbreviations for those words thus making the blocks meaningless, they need to communicate with the spammers who send stuff to my main address and quit whining.

  • Chris Goodman

    To believe that the “profit motive trumps everything else” implies either that you have not thought through what you are saying, or that you are a truly contemptible individual.

  • Verity

    God, what a bunch of self-righteous prigs some of you are! Microsoft is in budinrdd for profit, as is every other company in the world. This pursuit is what makes successful companies so inventive and dynamic.

    Sark I suggest you move to the West Bank, where you will find a government very much in accord with your thinking.

    It’s not Microsoft’s job to promote free speech or curtail free speech. Its job is to sell its product, and it will tailor itself to market conditions in order to do so.

    Would you say that Chanel cosmetics, let us say, should not have any commercial activity in Saudi Arabia and other hellish shitholes because they make women wear black pillowcases on their heads? If the women want to buy make-up regardless of the restrictions in their country, why would Chanel give a monkeys?

    What do you think they would do? Say: “We will not sell our make-up in your country until women are free to take those black pillowcases off their heads?” Or: “What skintones do you want the face powder in?”

  • Surely Bombadil is arguing that the requirement for a corporation to make a profit trumps morality?

    The requirement for my company to make a profit certainly trumps your morality.

    To believe that the “profit motive trumps everything else” implies either that you have not thought through what you are saying, or that you are a truly contemptible individual.

    Contempt away then; I don’t suppose that Wobbly or Microsoft need your approval or your morals.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Chris Goodman –

    Get off your high horse. The primary motivation of a profit-seeking entity is to make profit. TWG is absolutely correct when he says this trumps morality. Corporations are not individuals; they are amoral. They are, however, eth ical , and the ethi cs they follow are enforced upon them by society. They follow these et hics because it’s more profitable to do so than not.

  • There is a very real difference between Chanel selling cosmetics in Saudi Arabia and what Microsoft is accused of doing. Chanel’s sale of cosmetics in Saudi Arabia is not active collaboration with a repressive state for the specific purpose of denying fundamental human rights. Indeed, such sales are probably a subversion of the apparatus of denying human rights.

    Saying that the only duty of a corporation is to make money strikes me as being somewhat beside the point. If Microsoft were an individual human being, then collaborating with the Communist Chinese to extend their repression to the internet would be a morally reprehensible act. How does Microsoft’s status as a corporation make the very same actions not morally reprehensible?

    Many at this site are quick to condemn the actions of various states as immoral or otherwise wrong. Need I point out that states are merely another form of corporation? How is that the state corporation can be condemned in moral terms, while a business corporation, by some magic of its corporate nature, is immune from such criticism?

    Now, there is an argument to be had about whether Microsoft has actually collaborated in imposing restrictions, whether such restrictions amount to a hill of beans, whether the greater good of blogging availability swamps the lesser evil of repressive software, etc.

    But, please, lets not pretend that discussing the actions of business corporations in moral terms is a category error, or that, unlike the actions of individuals and the state, business corporations simply cannot by definition be moral actors.

  • It might not be Microsoft’s job to promote free speech, but that doesn’t make them exempt from criticism if they write software that can be used to inhibit it.

    If the story is true, it means that at some point an individual sat down and wrote the code that will help the Chinese government restrict free speech. Should that person have thought twice about doing so, or is it okay to just shrug and say, “I’m only doing my job”?

    If someone in Microsoft had taken the individual responsibility to stop such software from being made by Microsoft, would we not all be praising them?

  • Johnathan

    It is a myth that libertarianism requires one to endorse everything a business does. That is an intellectually lazy assumption. As many champions of free enterprise like Milton Friedman et al have pointed out, businesses are often poor defenders of freedom, often happy to grab what tariffs, subsidies they can. We defenders of laissez faire must not overlook this point.

  • Anthony

    Surely making comments like that about bombs under cars is illegal?

  • Euan Gray

    We defenders of laissez faire must not overlook this point

    Indeed, but what do you actually intend to stop it?

    EG

  • ernest young

    If it is moral, politically correct, or whatever, for businesses to write software and construct systems to inhibit my freedoms, e.g. via speed cameras, CCTV, etc. and not have to suffer criticism. How comes it is suddenly wrong for MS to write similarly, and perhaps less onerous, restrictive software? or is being anti MS becoming as fashionable, or equatable to being anti US?

    Western governments favour the former and abhor the latter. In China the reverse is true, are they not allowed an opinion of their own?

    What a bunch of bigoted hypocrites these so-called ‘liberals’ are.

  • The point needs to be made that the Cinese getting internet access is of the same significance as the arrival of the printing press.
    Some things may be forbidden but to no avail,the seedsa have been sown in China is will never be the same again.
    Anyway microsoft is so full of security holes it has probably been hacked already.

  • Verity

    R C Dean says: Chanel’s sale of cosmetics in Saudi Arabia is not active collaboration with a repressive state for the specific purpose of denying fundamental human rights.

    Well, I could argue otherwise. I could argue that by allowing women cosmetics, they are making it easier for women to accommodate themselves to the horrendous repression of human rights they suffer in Saudi Arabia. “See? We have no problem with you wearing make-up in the comfort of your own home – just as you can take off your black serge burqa once you step inside the house – and enjoy being a girl! We’re open minded and have no quarrel with make-up and short skirts in the safety of your own home!)

    To all those who say a corporation should have morals, I say a corporation is a money-making robot. It is not a person. It has the same single-mindedness and lack of morality as my cat does.

    In addition, many here now arguing on the other side have expressed themselves in the past exercised by corporations getting up on their hind legs and professing a sense of morality. There is an international bank that not only “celebrates diversity” (why?), but even has an entire section on its site noisily celebrating diversity. If I were a shareholder, I would rather they were celebrating profit. What is more, there is no way I would buy shares in a bank which was being diverted by social programmes from its purpose of making a profit for its shareholders.

  • Johnathan

    Euan, I don’t imagine we can do much to stop Mr Gates and his ilk from stuff like this. I hardly imagine Gates gives a toss what we think. That’s no reason to shrug the shoulders (on that basis, why should blogs, newspapers, or anyone else comment on anything at all?).

    Anyway, consumer pressure can have an impact at the margins – yesterday providing an example with the eBay kerfuffle over the Live 8 tickets, although of course that issue was pathetic compared with what MS is doing and I think eBay was not at fault.

    With any luck Mr Gates will be made to be suitably embarrassed on this topic at the next MS annual meeting.

  • Julian Taylor

    I’d be interested to know if anyone has a copy of Microsoft Word from China and how their dictionary or thesaurus reacts to words like ‘Democracy’, ‘Freedom’ etc. Obviously its a relatively easy task to doctor the dictionary but, bearing in mind Microsoft’s previous history on this sort of thing, nothing would surprise me …

  • Sark’s comments are intemperate but hardly illegal as they stand, at least in the UK. I too am no pacifist and there are many places in the world where I welcome the use of violence to counter the violence of the state.

    It seems to me that ‘Praxis’ has it entirely right: it is not the ‘corporation’ of Microsoft that is immoral because it is just a legal construct, it is only individuals who are moral or immoral. So it is those who make the decision to directly assist in the repression of China who should be excoriated.

  • Verity, if you think that “making it easier for women to accommodate themselves to the horrendous repression of human rights” is the equivalent of actively collaborating with a repressive regime’s efforts at thought control, well, we disagree on that.

    I am curious, though – do you think a state corporation should be as completely untrammelled by moral concerns as a business corporation? If so, why?

    Is it perfectly acceptable for a state to act as a robot, to be applauded only to the extent that engages in the essential activity of a state – accumulation and exercise of coercive power?

    BTW, Perry et al, any idea why a comment gets rejected with the rather Orwellian statement “Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content” whenever it contains the word “etical” (spelled properly, of course)?

  • It is possible some comments are getting nailed by our anti-spam blacklist if the entry contains words that are frequently used in spams. Our genuine condolences if your remarks get unjustly rejected but that is the price we pay for not getting our comments deluged with Viagra advert and URL’s to Russian kiddie porn sites. Not having a blacklist is simply not an option for us as administering Samizdata.net takes quite a bit of time as it is and clearing up hundreds of spams per day (which is what we got before the blacklist) is just too time consuming :-(

    I will check to see if the blacklist be being overzealous so please e-mail me at admin-at-samizdata.net if you think the blacklist is being too obsessive about some specific word.

  • Verity

    R C Dean, I did not at any time suggest that a state should be untrammelled by moral considerations. I was speaking up for shareholder-held corporations, which are accountable, rightly in my opinion, only to their shareholders. Microsoft is within its rights to sell its software to China under any terms that Microsoft and the Chinese buyer agree upon.

    At no point did I offer an opinion about states/countries. I was disturbed by so-called libertarians jumping around because Microsoft (hiss! boo!) had come to a commercial arrangement they would have had no opinion about were the seller other than Microsoft.

  • I was disturbed by so-called libertarians jumping around because Microsoft (hiss! boo!) had come to a commercial arrangement they would have had no opinion about were the seller other than Microsoft.

    Wrong. It has got nothing to do with the fact it is MS. We have taken pokes at other companies as well when their directors support dreadful things.

  • Oh, and no reply yet from VoA on the actual facts.

  • Would somebody care to explain why Microsoft is being virtually lynched at this very moment, when Google, Yahoo, and Cisco – to name a few – have been aiding and abetting Chinese censorship of the Internet long before MS? (and in the case of Cisco, it does mean censorship of IP traffic at large, not just a specific and limited web services such as MSN Spaces)

    Why did they get a free pass, and keep getting away with it? Is it disgusting censorship trampling the rights of the individuals only when Microsoft is doing it?

    Just curious.

    Oh and, does any distinguished Friend of Liberty truly believe that the oppressed Chinese are worse off with access to free blog software and services, no matter how limited (considering that no limits on words can overcome human genius to find alternate ways to express the same ideas anyway – otherwise, please explain why I spend so much time cleaning my client’s trackbacks and comments sections…) than they would be without them? (and presumably left with nothing but state propaganda?)

    I say censored words by Microsoft on MSN Space blogs are piece of cake to work around for anybody with 2 cents of wit and 3 words of vocabulary – whereas censored search results by Yahoo and Google, or blocked IPs and domains by Cisco-provided routers are a real problem from a dissident’s point of view. Or anybody else for that matter.

  • Verity

    Yay to the Diss!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Dissident Frogman, it is not a case of folk like us picking on Microsoft. If other internet firm are also kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party, then shame on then if that is the case.

    Making a profit regardless of the actions taken is not, and should not, be applauded willy nilly.

  • Verity

    Good God, Jonathan and Co! They operate within the laws of the country to which they’re selling! If they wish to sell in Britain, they have to obey British trade laws. They are not arbiters of morality. They are businesspeople in busines to turn a profit!

    If they wanted to flutter around wringing their hands deciding which country’s laws to obey, who is to make the decision? The chairman of the board? The CEO? The board? Is it to be put to a vote of the shareholders? “Do you wish to have your dividend halved this year by refusing to do business with China under their terms? Yes or no? PS Having this mailing designed, written, printed and mailed has cost your company $127,000.” The shareholders would fire the entire board at the next AGM.

  • Making a profit regardless of the actions taken is not, and should not, be applauded willy nilly.

    Nothing should be applauded “willy nilly”. Everything is worth considering and criticizing. But the notion that corporations should be evaluating their business decisions on grounds of some higher morality is not a good one.

    Plenty of companies here in the United States, and (I suspect) in the United Kingdom as well, earn their money by making filtering software for schools, libraries, etc. Some of this software makes it impossible for teens to get information on STDs and contraception over school computers. Are these companies also acting immorally? I think if you poll several parents you will find some disagreement in that regard.

    What higher moral ground should Microsoft occupy? Should they help the Chinese government make blogging difficult by refusing to put up any blogging software at all?

    No – they should do exactly what they have done. Write the software they can write – and let social pressures within and without China effect change.

  • Winzeler

    Perry and R C, your assertions on this matter seem to be somewhat misplaced. I agree with Verity on this one, although for a different reason. There is a huge, distinct difference between a state and a cooperation. A state tends to legitimize force to meet its goals. A cooperation is forced to rely on appeal.

    Obviously we are quite free to find cooperate policies contemptible, but they are a far cry from the violence backed state.

  • Verity

    Jonathan, and Perry, too: You are not spokespeople for either side. If either of you owned shares in Microsoft (boo! hiss!), you’d have had the line to Shareholder Relations steaming by now.

    I’ve seen your photos. You are both very cute, but neither of you is Chinese.

    So what business is this of yours?

    How on earth do you presume to know what Chinese bloggers think of this deal? Given that half the programmers in Silicone Valley are Chinese, do you really think that the Chinese in China are not confident they can stretch the parameters to suit themselves? And even were they not, do you think they would prefer not to have any software you don’t approve of than at least have something?

    For a pair of libertarians, you appear to be very intolerant of the marketplace. This is between Microsoft and Chinese bloggers. You are in London burdened with laws passed by unelected, unnamed bureaucrats in another country which will impact on your futures and your incomes, and you are paying prices for produce that are totally mind boggling in other parts of the world. Get a grip!

  • Verity, that is probably the most poorly thought out comment you have ever written here. Why should the fact I am not Chinese matter? Does my race mean I cannot be opposed to tyranny imposed on non-whites? For what it is worth, I have spent time in China but even if I had not, so what?

    And if you think just because a business rather than a government does something, a ‘libertarian’ should automatically applaud it, you are very much mistaken. ‘The marketplace’ you are talking about is a company selling the tools of repression not to parents in the west but to a brutal government using those tools to maintain power over a billion people. Can you not tell the difference?

    Frogman: as shown in the links in my earlier comment, I HAVE attacked Yahoo and Oracle for doing this sort of thing, so why should I give MS a free ride?

    Winzeler:

    Obviously we are quite free to find cooperate policies contemptible, but they are a far cry from the violence backed state.

    Of course… and? When a corporate policy directly helps the state do something bad, should we not point out that they are in deed a party to that bad thing?

  • Verity

    Perry – Perhaps instead of saying you’re not Chinese, I should have written that you don’t live in China.

    Not being a Chinese blogger or a blogger who lives in China, you have no idea where all this is going. And even if you did, I maintain my original position that it is a business deal between two parties, both of whom have agreed to it.

    You may recall that even after the invention of the printing press, only priests were allowed to read and write.

    People got their hands on the knowledge somehow, didn’t they? Chinese bloggers will do just fine without your objections.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Surely, the libertarian perspective is that a profit-seeking entity’s behaviour should be limited only by the (in)tolerance of its customers. Perry is assisting that process by bringing this piece of news to others’ attention. If you don’t care about blogging being censored in China, you won’t change your pattern of consumption to the detriment of MS. If you do care enough, and the information presented here makes you hopping mad, you’ll boycott MS products and send a letter to Redmond telling them why you’re doing so. If you do care, but not enough to boycott MS, well hopefully you’ll shut up.

    Perry said nothing about the state placing controls on MS to limit aspects of software development for certain illiberal markets. If he had, then obviously there would be a problem. However, he didn’t, and I can’t imagine he ever would.

    Verity – I believe that half the software engineers in Silicon Valley are Indian. You say half are Chinese. Are there any white people in Silicon Valley anymore?!

  • I find it rather funny that a post criticising Microsoft for amending its software so as to exclude certain words has an apology from a site administrator because the site excludes posts containing certain words. I accept that the reasons for the exclusions are different, but just as posters to Samizdata have the wit to get around the censorship of the word “eth ical”, so surely Chinese bloggers will develop ways to get around the censorship of the words “d3m0krazy”, “fre ed0m” and “yooman rites”. Microsoft have, at least, enabled blogging in China, which is better than no blogging in China.

  • Verity

    Suffering – Well, obviously, “half” was a gross exaggeration to make a point. I was saying that the Chinese are far from stupid and seem to have a natural aptitude for the internet – but your point was amusing!

    I still maintain that a contract between two parties, both parties obviously having found the terms satisfactory enough for them to sign the agreement, is none of my business.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Perry has answered Verity fairly well but I ought to add this question: is there nothing that a corporation might do in pursuit of profit that Verity would not condemn? Since when did support for laissez faire capitalism entail blanket support for anything a firm does?

    I find your attitude on this rather bizarre, Verity, but then I guess I live a sheltered life, being a cute chap that I am!

  • is there nothing that a corporation might do in pursuit of profit that Verity would not condemn?

    Without presuming to speak for Verity, I will answer for myself: illegal things.

  • Euan Gray

    Without presuming to speak for Verity, I will answer for myself: illegal things

    Who decides they are illegal, who enforces the law, and where is the line drawn as to what declarations of illegality amount to excessive interference in the market?

    EG

  • Verity

    Jonathan – Bombadil answered you. Illegal things.

    If a contract is between two parties, entering into an agreement to do something that is legal, that they both feel is to their advantage, I cannot for the life of me think what it has to do with you or Perry and I find your attitude very authoritarian for such a cute chap.

    Who are you and Perry to be sitting in judgement of other people’s legal agreements? You’re not citizens of China and you are obviously not shareholders in Microsoft, so what business is it of yours?

  • I'm suffering for my art

    A consumer has every right to send MS a message by boycotting their goods for whatever reason, regardless of how loopy or sane. That is the prerogative of every individual.

    I personally find it faintly iffy that Microsoft would chummy up with the Chinese government to help it maintain its very efficient form of social control, having some knowledge of how the Chinese government works. However, that alone is not going to make me stop buying MS products, so I might take my own advice and shut up. Or not.

  • Snide

    You’re not citizens of China and you are obviously not shareholders in Microsoft, so what business is it of yours?

    No one is a “citizen” in China in any meaningful way you fool, they are just subjects of a very nasty state. You act as if the Chinese state is “just another business partner” and not a murderous repressive entity lording it over 1 billion people. And I am not Sudanese and don’t live there so I suppose I cannot comment on the terror there either, eh? Pathetic.

  • Who decides they are illegal, who enforces the law, and where is the line drawn as to what declarations of illegality amount to excessive interference in the market?

    Unfortunately the state decides (which, in a representative government, means that theoretically the electorate decides). I imagine that there are certains classes of activity which we could all agree should not be permissable (murder, theft) but the line of illegality currently gets drawn far too restrictively (why can’t corporations hire whomever they desire from their pool of applications? why can’t corporations offer advantageous pricing to companies which refuse to do business with their competitors? etc etc).

    And, as ever, the state’s minions enforce the law – with guns and tanks and forms in triplicate.

  • Johnathan

    Verity, but what do you define as “illegal” then? Can the laws of a communist state be regarded on the same grounds as those of a free society? I find the moral relativism implicit in your argument very different from the hardline views I have come to expect from you. Would you be happy if MS censored its products to comply with Sharia law, for instance?

    I still don’t get why so many liberty-loving folk are content to give Gates a free pass on this issue just because he happens to run a company.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Would you be happy if MS censored its products to comply with Sharia law, for instance?

    Once again, someone else is answering a question posed at Verity, but I had to jump at this one. If MS was silly enough to write a programme to cater especially for those backward enough to desire Sharia law, then who am I to deny them that right? As long as that Sharia-inspired software does not interfere with my computing experience in any way, shape or form, it’s not really my business. Lots of large international banks are coming up with “bank loans that aren’t really” due to the Koran forbidding usury. How do you feel about this?

  • If Microsoft can make a profit by creating ShariaWare, why shouldn’t they make it? What sort of liberty-loving folk would deny people the right to purchase ShariaWare if they wish to do so?

    If some odious statist sits down to eat in a restaurant, should the restaurant owner refuse to serve him? If that same noxious socialist wants to purchase a computer, to be used for the dissemination of collectivist propaganda, should the computer retailer refuse to sell it to him in the name of preserving economic liberty?

    Allowing business to be conducted in a pure way, free of the burden of this elaborate and arcane moral calculus, is the habit of liberty-loving folk. The proper arenas for redressing legal and social wrongs are legal and social, not corporate.

  • Johnathan

    Okay folks, since you seem willing to let a company pretty much comply with draconian censorship, it seems pretty clear to me that you believe that companies can do what the heck they like, even if it bolsters the powers, however repressive and stupid, of a state. I find that a pretty lousy set of apologias for what MS is doing. (If in practice people can circumvent China’s daft policies, that is great but is besides the point)

  • Verity

    Jonathan, I must say, I could not have put it any better than Bombadil has done above.

    Obviously, sharia law is odious, but it’s legal in countries whose governments we recognise as legitimate. If Microsoft or anyone else wants to sell shariaware to a legally constituted entity – like the government of Saudi Arabia and other shitholes – it’s not my business to try to insert myself or my beliefs between a legitimate buyer and a legitimate seller.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Agree with Bombadil and Verity.

    If MS wants to make shariaware (tres witty!), fine. As long as I don’t have to have anything to do with such an abomination, I don’t care.

    Johnathon, I asked before and I’m still curious – how do you feel about large multinational banks offering Sharia-sanctioned non-loans* that, in effect, actually are loans? Do you find this kind of financial tool odious, despite the fact that you would never seek this kind of loan? Surely this is the same kind of business practice as shariaware?

    *If anyone’s interested, I think this is done by charging “rent” over a period of time – when that time elapses ownership passes to the “tenant”. Not totally sure, however.

  • speedwell

    I am SURE that when I first read about this issue, it was in an article on msn.com… no joke. I remember thinking “how ironic.” I do not remember the link, though, so I will have to re-research it.

  • Verity

    Suffering – I’m sure you’re right. I believe there are also “bank charges” and “service charges” – which, conveniently, are not interest! “Hmmm, lessee now, a $10,000 loan over 5 years at 5% per year would mean interest – oops! – excuse me, Mr Hassein! – the service charge over this period would be $2,500. OK?”

    Jonathan, may I add one more thing? If I did indeed object to Microsoft, say, developing ShariaWare (or Shariah-BWare if they had a mischievous programmer), the legitimate way to object would be to buy some shares in Microsoft, thus making the company’s actions my business, and then object as a shareholder.

    Right now, with respect, Jonathan, as I said before, you are not a citizen of China and you are not a Microsoft shareholder, so you have no role in all this. I say this with respect, because I can see that you are genuinely exercised about it, but that is the reality as I interpret it.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    No! Those service charges are not interest, you filthy usury-admirer, you!

  • Verity

    Usuary is against shariah! BUT, it says right here in the ShariahWare: “Service charges have no connection with usuary.”

    And for your listening pleasure, while you navigate our site, you can click on Play CD to listen to Tom Jones singing, “It’s Not Un-usuary”. (Whoah, whoah, whoah, whoah!)

  • I'm suffering for my art

    What a charming ditty!

  • Verity

    Meanwhile, if you go to the Microsoft site, you will see they are already very active in China, with pages of information. Unfortunately, it’s all in Chinese, but obviously they are already quite a presence in China.

  • Winzeler

    Perry, the issue here is choice. An individual presumably has the right to chose the products they use. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Microsoft is not forcing the Chinese (people, not government) to use their product/service. I have the right to buy the products I want, regardless of my motivation. I also respect the right of other individuals to buy whatever they want for whatever reason. Now if Microsoft was party to forcing people to use only their product, I would hold a much different opinion.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Verity is correct that I am exercised about this. Let’s clear up some things:

    I have no desire to coerce MS into changing its commercial activities. I am a private individual using the platform of a blog to slag off a firm I think is behaving with Chirac-style cynicism. If Gates wants to kowtow to the Chinese into censoring products to suit the desires of the Communist Party, then that is on his conscience (assuming he has one) and possibly, his share price.

    The fact that am not Chinese does not mean I cannot have a view on how a U.S. -listed firm conducts itself. The idea that only Chinese people are able or fit to comment on this matters seems to avoid the reality of the global world we live in. China is a fast-growing country and the political complexion of that country will affect us all in the long run, so it makes sense to think about these issues and comment loudly where necessary.

    Sometimes there is a need to criticise and point out where firms are behaving badly. I hope and trust that newspapers, the television networks and other sources like blogs highlight Microsoft’s behaviour. It may not deflect Gates’ from creeping up to the Chinese state but it might encourage more people around the world to shun Gates’ products and move elsewhere. At the margins, this may chasten Gates into changing his ways.

    Finally, I do of course hope that Chinese people can find a way around this, and that is good, but that should not deflect us from bashing those firms who find it convenient to go along with repressives states in order to make a fast buck.

    And for the umpteenth time, support for capitalism is not the same as automatic support for anything a company does.

  • Verity

    Jonathan, with respect, has any Chinese (or other) person living in China complained to you? Have you read of such a complaint? Heard of one?

    Is it beyond the bounds of imagining that many bloggers will be as pleased as Punch that they’ve got this blogging tool, and intend to manipulate it once they’ve figured out how to do it? And will be able to do so?

    And some smart people will build on what they glean from Microsoft and start disseminating their own programmes, possibly illegally at first?

    Nothing’s forever.

  • Johnathan

    No Verity, I have not heard any complaints from China or indeed any other country from this. Why do you think that precludes me commenting on it? This blog does not have to wait until we get direct complaints on certain issues, as Perry pointed out higher up.

    Part of the idea of this and similar sites is raising western focus on abuses in far-off places. One can be sure the Big Media will not do so.

  • sesquipedalian

    Some perspectives here are bit hard on MS. Its not as if MS had a choice (unless political activism is one of their activities agreed at an AGM)…and lets get it right it’s just a cosmetic restriction/non-issue that can easily be worked around (a libertarian fait accompli if you will). I can’t see how its any more ‘aiding and abetting’ than, say, car makers having to develop and install black boxes (which is more serious in my opinion).

  • Verity

    For Perry and Jonathan, in case you haven’t seen it. The Chinese government is now getting involved in jumping into blogs and censoring ongoing discussions. I’m sorry I can’t figure out how to do the link, but here’s the address:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/leaders/story/0,3604,1508299,00.html

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The very fact that the PRC has recognized the existence of blogs indicates that they know that some form of change is coming soon. They can stop blogs, but they can’t stop coffee shop talk. Long before the advent of blogs, or even the internet, or TV, radio, people would gather in cafes and discuss the state of the world, and what exactly was wrong with the government they were living under.

    Censoring blogs would only slow down the process a trifle. And as somebody had pointed out, it’s possible to circumvent the software censors. Heck, I bet some smart aleck might even create a shareware program that allows anybody to get round the restrictions!

    TWG

  • Verity

    Apparently a key word that triggers a government listener to come leaping in is “democracy”.