Microsoft Lays Out Rules for Banning Blogs

Microsoft has adopted new guidelines for deciding how to respond to a foreign or U.S. government request to shut down a blog.

The company has attracted withering criticism from the blogosphere ever since it complied with the Chinese government’s demand several weeks ago to deny access to the Microsoft network to a popular blogger in China.

New Rules of the Road

Microsoft says it will shut down a blog only when served with a “legally binding notice from the government indicating that the material violates local laws, or if the content violates MSN’s terms of use.”

It will provide bloggers with notice of government requests to block them. Previously, bloggers learned they had been shut down only when they logged on and discovered their content had disappeared.

If Microsoft does remove a blog to accommodate a particular government, however, it will not block the material from other jurisdictions, the company said. While no one would be able to access a banned blog in China, for example, Internet users in other countries would be able to view it.

Any Rights at All?

The debate over what — if any — rights bloggers and other users of Internet servers have has intensified in recent weeks in the wake of several high-profile events.

Five weeks ago, Microsoft kicked Chinese blogger Zhao Jing off its network after he published comments about a newspaper strike that his government apparently did not like.

Yahoo has come under attack for capitulating to Chinese demands for information about a user’s e-mail account, which led to the arrest of a reporter accused of leaking internal government information to a news organization.

Google recently admitted to submitting to Chinese government censorship of search terms.

A Pattern Unfolds

The pattern, of course, is quite clear. Internet service providers like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google are afraid of being excluded from the lucrative Chinese market, so they comply with demands they wouldn’t have to meet in the United States.

It is the latest and perhaps most ironic twist in the remarkable saga of Internet communications, Ananda Mitra, associate professor of communications at Wake Forest, told TechNewsWorld.

“The Internet — and blogging by extension — has given the individual an opportunity to have a voice that is completely independent of institutional control,” Mitra said.

In Iran’s blogging community, for instance, it has become clear there is a strong minority in the country that does not agree with the government’s policy on nuclear weapons development, he said. “Those voices have been heard only because technology makes it possible.”

The problem is, these “institutions,” namely governments, are now flexing their muscles online. Large companies like Google can hardly afford to ignore them — unless they’re willing to give up access to China’s market, for example.

Another Route

It remains to be seen whether Microsoft, Google and Yahoo can adequately serve the interests of the blogging community.

There is at least one possible solution to this problem. “Indian companies also offer blogging technology and capabilities,” Mitra suggests. “These tend to be smaller companies that might not care if they are cut out of the China market.”

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