MS Takes a Blog and Shoves It

but nobody thought to ask why…

Usually I’m not so fast with responses to current events, but this one has me pissed off. Really pissed off.

A Chinese blogger’s site was taken down — a blogger living in China who wrote in Chinese about highly political Chinese events. What makes this newsworthy is that apparently the takedown was done by Microsoft. The blog was hosted on MSN Spaces. One day, it’s there. The next, "This space is temporarily unavailable."

Most folks are complaining about Microsoft . Apparently it was MS, not the Chinese government, that shut down this blog.

That, however, is not why I’m angry.

I’m angry because of the huge jump-to-conclusions attitude of the blog world. I’ll offer two points that explain why MS did what they did:

First, read the MSN Spaces Code of Conduct. In there, it clearly states (my emphasis):

Violations of the MSN Spaces Code of Conduct may result in the termination of access to MSN Spaces services or deletion of content without notice.

You will not upload, post, transmit, transfer, disseminate, distribute, or facilitate distribution of any content, including text, images, sound, data, information, or software, that:

is illegal or violates any local and national laws that apply to your location; including but not limited to child pornography, illegal drugs, copyright material and intellectual property not belonging to you.

Like I said, this blogger is from China. While I’m no expert on Chinese laws, I imagine the Chinese government would find that blog or its content illegal. I also imagine Microsoft is not super savvy about Chinese laws but they’re not looking to get in trouble either. If the Chinese government has an issue with that individual blog, they’re more likely to stop traffic to MSN Spaces altogether rather than stop traffic to that one blog.

MS plays it safe, decides it would rather let all the other Chinese blogs stay up, and pulls the one offending blog instead. That way when the Chinese government goes to MS and asks why they shouldn’t block all access to MS Spaces, MS can say they would much rather do this on a blog-by-blog case.

The other reason why MS did this is because they’re trying very, very hard right now to make business inroads in China. The US Government is trying to get China to do more to enforce their intellectual property laws; MS is probably losing a bundle to counterfeit software overseas, and China is a huge offender in software, movie, and music bootlegs. To win China’s favor, MS is watching China’s back too. MS already censors Chinese ‘net searching (so does Google), so censoring an individual blog is a far cry from the worst that MS could have done.

Let me be clear — I am not defending MS’s decision. In fact, I think that the smart folks in Redmond had several other options they could have chosen instead:

  • Block China IP addresses from accessing that blog
  • Remove individual offending posts
  • Change phrases, words, or sentences to make the content acceptable

And for each of those, inform the blogger and the readers about why. I’m sure most bloggers out there will take offense to these ideas. "How could you even suggest that a company censors the posts of its bloggers?" Well, MS offers this service with terms, and it’s up to MS and NOT YOU to determine how they’re enforced. (Don’t like their terms? Take your blog somewhere else.) Second, it’s better that MS does it than the Chinese government who use much harsher tactics than MS would (say, by blocking all MSN Spaces access in China).

For all of you complaining about MS, calling them complicit in the Chinese government’s censoring — yeah, they are. That’s the price of doing business in China. I say MS made the right call this time; not even MS can make a stand against the Chinese government, no matter how high the ideal is.

This is just one small part about how the international nature of the ‘net is going to cause many, many more problems in the upcoming years. We’ve already seen the US resist turning over ICANN — a wise move in my opinion. What you see China right now is a small example of what could happen worldwide if other countries are given control over portions of the Internet. However, this is the only reason why the US should resist turning over ICANN.

But the international issues are not over. Remember that France said Yahoo can’t sell Nazi goods to French net users; those sales are banned by French law. The US court said Yahoo doesn’t have to listen to France. ICANN, MSN Spaces, search censoring — these are isolated examples of a terrible dilemma. Governments should work together to make these decisions. Unilateral action, like the actions of MS or the Great Firewall of China, just piss off the bloggers. Take a chill pill, go curl up with your favorite international relations book, and think about this a little bit more before you give MS the verbal smackdown.

UPDATE:  Maybe MS read my post.  This link goes to a nice summary of the MS response. Quote the MSN PR folks:

"MSN is committed to ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms and industry practices. Most countries have laws and practices that require companies providing online services to make the Internet safe for local users. Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements."

"Microsoft is a multinational business and, as such, needs to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world."

I also recommend this post from the MSN Spaces product manager.  Maybe even the Scobilizer has come to his senses:

"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." (emphasis mine)

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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