Microsoft the state-run thug

So is Microsoft little more than a state-run thug? These are strong words indeed but they don’t come from me but from the mouth of Microsoft’s own blogger Robert Scoble over MSN’s decision to take down a blog by Chinese journalist Zhao Jing, from its MSN Spaces portal.

Writing under the name Michael Anti, Zhao Jing went further than most Chinese bloggers, writing, for example, in support of journalists at the Beijing Daily News who walked out to protest over the sacking of the paper’s the top editors.

But what’s the big fuss you may ask? The Chinese Communist government has always been repressive so why does the case of one journalist matter?

As ex-CNN journalist Rebecca Mckinnon points out in her blog RConversation the key issue here is:

Note, his blog was TAKEN DOWN by MSN people. Not blocked by the Chinese government.

A Microsoft spokesman, quoted at Vnunet says: "Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements. This MSN Space has been blocked to help ensure that the service complies with local laws in China."

But in this case it is far from clear what laws Zhao Jing has broken. Being a relatively new phenomenon, the Chinese government is still coming to terms with how to extend its tight control of traditional media outlets to the fast-paced world of blogging.

Mckinnon has done some investigating into the state of blogging censorship in China and accuses MSN of employing widespread censorship. Posting blogs with politically sensitive words and phrases such as like “Tibet Independence” and “Falun Gong” (a banned religious group in China) resulted in posts becoming mysteriously inaccessible.

As these posts were also unavailable outside of China, Mckinnon says the posts must have removed by MSN staff at the server level, rather than any localised blocking by the Chinese government.

If this is indeed the case, and I see no reason to doubt it, then it seems we have evidence of yet another Western technology stalwart cosying up to the Chinese government, no doubt to ensure that none of the company's wider commercial interests are jeopardised.

Just last year Yahoo! also hit the headlines, standing accused of providing information to the Chinese government that resulted in the jailing of another Chinese journalist, Shi Tao.

Unfortunately, given that the Chinese economy is powering ahead, and the country is looking to exert increasing influence over developing technology trends, it is a sad thought that the rights of the Chinese people will continue to be all too easily trampled in the rush to exploit the elusive China market.