BIG BUSINESS IS WATCHING

January 20, 2006

Even as Internet use explodes in China, Beijing is cracking down on free expression, and Western technology firms are leaping to help as companies are blocking access to political websites, censoring content, providing filtering equipment to the government and snitching on users, says the New York Times.

Companies like Microsoft and Yahoo argue that they must follow local laws, but even though such obvious disregard for users' privacy and ethical standards may make it easier to do business in China, it also aids a repressive regime.

Yet, China needs Internet companies as much as they need China, says the Times:

  • A decade ago, consumers began to rebel against the sweatshop practices of Western manufacturers that made clothes and toys in China and elsewhere; smart businesses cleaned up and formed associations to adopt codes of good labor practices and set up independent monitoring.
  • Reporters Without Borders, a group advocating press freedom, recommends that Internet companies also adopt a good conduct code, pledging not to filter out words like "democracy" and "human rights" from search engines and maintaining their e-mail and Internet services outside of China.
  • Western businesses have always overestimated the price of defending human rights in China; some have done it effectively -- privately and respectfully -- and paid no cost, but the beauty of such an industry-wide code of conduct for Internet companies is that it would put no company at a disadvantage.

Furthermore, Western technology companies could have a powerful case if they acted as a group in telling China that they are under tremendous consumer and political pressure to stick up for free expression, says the Times.

Source: Editorial, "Beijing's New Enforcer: Microsoft," New York Times, January, 17, 2006.

For text (subscription required):

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/17/opinion/17tue2.html

 

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