Contact l Sitemap

home industries issues reasearch weblog press

Home  » Industries » Technology & Telecommunications

CHINA: China Ratchets Up Web Privacy Fight

by SKY CANAVESWall Street Journal
January 28th, 2010

Chinese state-run media trumpeted comments by Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates that played down China's Internet restrictions, as the government continued to ratchet up its rebuttal of recent U.S. criticisms of its Web policies.

0127bgates

Getty Images

Bill Gates

Mr. Gates, in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" this week, said that China's "efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited," and likened its controls to those of other countries. In separate comments, he criticized Microsoft rival Google Inc.'s statement this month that it would stop obeying Beijing's censorship rules on its Chinese-language site, and might close its offices in the country.

On Wednesday, several Chinese newspapers gave the comments prominent display. "Bill Gates Bats for China," read the lead headline in the English edition of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper. The tabloid's Chinese version, which claims a daily circulation of 1.5 million, also devoted its front page to Mr. Gates's comments and to Western media reports of them, while China Daily, the country's main English-language paper,also highlighted the comments on page one.

Mr. Gates's comments echoed similar remarks made last week by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, but Mr. Gates's celebrity status in China appears to have given his words greater weight. His comments followed a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week vowing to make Internet freedom a centerpiece of American foreign policy and praising U.S. companies that promote free information.

Chinese media have mounted a concerted effort to discredit Mrs. Clinton's remarks about China in that speech, as well as Google's allegations in its Jan. 12 statement that it and other companies were targeted by cyberattacks originating in China. Dozens of commentaries published since last week have described the U.S. criticism as hypocritical and alleged that Google is being used as a pawn by Washington.

Mr. Gates said the Internet has helped free expression, and that in China it is "easy to go around" the government's system of controls. "And so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important," he added. He said other countries restrict some Web content, such as pornography, and noted that Germany censors statements related to the Nazi Party. "And so you've got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws of the countries you're in, or not?" the Microsoft co-founder told ABC host George Stephanopoulos on Monday.

Chinese officials have made similar statements, saying China's management of the Internet is in line with international practice and that foreign companies in China must obey its laws. In separate comments Monday to the New York Times, Mr. Gates belittled Google's China statement. "They've done nothing and gotten a lot of credit for it," he said. "What point are they making?"

China's Internet controls go far beyond those of countries like Germany, censoring a wide range of politically sensitive content and blocking access entirely to foreign sites like YouTube and Facebook. Chinese authorities have arrested numerous dissidents for using the Internet to criticize the government, including Zhao Lianhai, who was jailed last year for running a Web site to help families like his whose children were poisoned by tainted milk powder made by government-owned companies.

Simon Leung, who is head of Microsoft's China operations, declined to comment on the Chinese media's response to Mr. Gates's statements.

Lian Yue, a prominent Chinese blogger, wrote on Twitter that he thought Mr. Gates' critique of Google was "silly and unfair," and that his defense of Beijing's position "is unwise even from a pure business perspective, as it is damaging to Microsoft's commercial reputation."

Microsoft's Internet business has struggled to gain a foothold in China. The Web search market here is dominated by Baidu.com Inc. and Google, which had combined market share of about 94% in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to research firm Analysys International. Microsoft in June introduced a Chinese version of its Bing search engine, which like other search engines in China strips politically sensitive links from its search results. In 2006, Microsoft was criticized by U.S. lawmakers and free speech advocates after it deleted a popular Chinese blog that was critical of the government at the request of Chinese authorities.

In a separate development, a Ministry of Industry and Information Technology spokesman said the Chinese government won't limit the use of Google's Android operating system for mobile devices by Chinese telecommunications operators. The comments were China's first official word on the future of the Android operating system since Google's announcement that it will stop obeying government censorship rules on its Chinese search site as a result of concerns over hacking and censorship.

The spokesman's comments suggest that the government might be open to permitting parts of Google's business to continue to function in China despite that announcement.

"As long as it complies with Chinese laws and regulations, and as long as it has good cooperation with operators ... their use of the system won't be limited." MIIT spokesman Zhu Hongren said Wednesday at an annual news briefing.

There are several Android-based phones already in China, and the country's three major telecom carriers-all of which are state-owned—are planning to launch more. Last week, Google said it was delaying the planned China launch of two mobile-phone models using Android. The phones, made in partnership with Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Inc., were to be sold in partnership with carrier China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd.

—Aaron Back and Sue Feng contributed to this article.




This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.