Microsoft Plans Gov’t Blog Complaint Rules

Following criticism in late 2005 on how Microsoft disabled a blog by Chinese blogger Zhao Jing critical of the Chinese government, Microsoft has laid out new policies regarding government complaints and restrictions in regards to material Microsoft hosts via blogging and personal Web site services.

Speaking at a conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Microsoft’s Senior Counsel Brad Smith outlined what the company hopes will be a consistent framework for dealing with government orders related to blogs and personal publishing. In brief, Microsoft will:

  • Block access to blog content only when it violates MSN’s terms of use or when the company receives a legally binding notice from the government indicating the material violates local laws;
  • Block access to content only from the country issuing an order regarding violation of local laws, while still permitting access from the rest of the world;
  • Inform users trying to access blocked content that access has been limited due to government restrictions.

Smith noted the Microsoft feels it is better serving its customers to make Internet tools and services available in local markets, even with governmental restrictions, than to not offer any services at all. Microsoft founder Bill Gates noted at the same conference that governmental efforts to censor the Internet were doomed to eventual failure because banned information will be disseminated despite injunctions, but Microsoft must comply with local laws in countries where it operates.

Ironically, Smith also called for a dialog between governments and the Internet industry regarding policies and principles of online service offerings, even as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Cisco declined to attend a congressional human rights briefing today intended to highlight activities of U.S. internet businesses operating in China. (The companies are expected to attend a February 15 hearing on the subject focusing on the extent to which U.S. companies are supporting repressive regimes.) Google recently drew fire for agreeing to enforce Chinese censorship policies in the Chinese editions of its search and news offerings.