Microsoft censors Chinese blogger

Software giant says "unique elements" contributed to its decision to take down a Chinese journalist's blog.

Andrew Donoghue Special to CNET News.com
2 min read
Microsoft has admitted to removing the blog of an outspoken Chinese journalist from its MSN Spaces site, citing its policy of adhering to local laws.

The blog, written by Zhao Jing, also known as Michael Anti, was removed from MSN servers on Dec. 31, according to investigative journalist and former CNN reporter Rebecca Mackinnon. She claimed that the blog was actively removed by MSN staff rather than being blocked by Chinese authorities.

A Microsoft representative told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that it blocked Anti's MSN Space blog to help ensure that the service complied with local laws in China.

"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," the representative said.

Questions still remain over why a site believed to be hosted in the United States has to comply with Chinese law. Microsoft responded to requests for more information on this issue by stating that "Microsoft is a multinational business and, as such, needs to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world."

Responding to Mackinnon's report, Microsoft's own in-house blogger, Robert Scoble, said he was "depressed" by the news and offered Anti the opportunity to blog via his site.

"Guys over at MSN: Sorry, I don't agree with your being used as a state-run thug," he said. "It's one thing to pull a list of words out of a blog using an algorithm. It's another thing to become an agent of a government and censor an entire blogger's work," Scoble wrote.

Scoble's comments referred to reports in June 2005, when Microsoft acknowledged censoring words such as "freedom" and "democracy" from its Chinese MSN portal. In an e-mail sent to ZDNet UK sister site Silicon.com, Microsoft said, "We don't disclose the list, but we do have the ability to change and update the filter, as needed, to help ensure we abide by the laws, regulations and norms of China."

Scoble's latest blog entry on the issue, made shortly before his departure to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which begins Thursday, states that he has had problems tracking down the relevant parties in Microsoft to comment on the issue and that some individuals have criticized him for commenting on the issue without checking further.

"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," Scoble wrote.

In September, Yahoo was heavily criticized when it emerged that the portal company had provided information to Chinese authorities that led to the imprisonment of a Chinese journalist.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London.