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Curiosity surrounds tech giants' congressional snub

Much has been made in the last week of the censorship-friendly search engine Google launched in China last week and the company's compliance with China's censorship policies. But Google wasn't the only tech giant that raised eyebrows today after refusing to attend a congressional caucus on China's Internet censorship. Microsoft, Yahoo, Cisco and Google all declined to attend the briefing, organized by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.


Politicians held no punches when discussing the companies' absence. And among the great halls of the blogosphere, echoes of last week's outrage over Google's submission to censorship laws reverberated. But for the most part, bloggers don't seem to be taking today's snub with much weight. All four companies have said they would send representatives to a House of Representatives hearing on the same topic scheduled for Feb. 15. Of course, the House International Relations Committee that is sponsoring the next hearing does have subpoena power, so it may not be up to the companies to decide. So far though, there has been no sign that they will be legally compelled to testify.

So while it seems many bloggers are withholding serious judgment for later, they are asking important questions in the meantime. For one, if a U.S.-based company wishes to do business overseas, isn't it the company's prerogative whether or not to play by that country's rules, regardless of how well it may sit with Americans? Secondly, is it the responsibility of business leaders to shape foreign countries' policies? These four companies' thoughts on the matter are pretty clear. While they say they'll do what they can to encourage open communication, statements issued by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all call for more government-to-government negotiations on the topic.

While several tech companies are involved in this dispute, Google is certainly taking the biggest beating. And although some bloggers have said it is better that the search company is offering China some information than staying out of the market and offering none at all, others aren't convinced. They say Google's compliance with Chinese censorship is in direct conflict with its mission statement, and that if the company truly wanted to do no evil, it would stand up for its beliefs in this situation.

Blog community response:

"These companies are caving in to demands from foreign governments because Congress hasn't offered any protections to shield them within our own legal system. Remember how eBay was forced to cancel auctions for Nazi memorabilia because their executives faced criminal prosecution from the French Government? Unless the US government is willing to take an active interest in those cases and use its diplomatic and legal might to protect our companies, they have no choice, based upon the economic consequences, but to cave in."
--Richard Kokoska on CNET TalkBack

"So I hope no one gets sucked into this media circus. Google and Microsoft and Yahoo are ignoring the "hearings." You should, too. (If I suspected a shred of sincerity in Smith's soapboxing, maybe I'd think otherwise.)"
--The Peking Duck

"Evil would be not giving any information to the Chinese, as in pulling out of China. Its a tough call for them, its their choice to make. If you feel strongly about it, let Bush know that the US is ready to send in armed troops to enforce their rights. Or, build your own Google clone, and you try to get it to work in China uncensored. Or, demand clear foreign policy regarding compliance with local laws."
--Traddy on Ars Technica

"In addition to common action by Internet companies, there is an important role for the United States government to address, in the context of its bilateral government-to-government relationships, the larger issues of free expression and open communication. For example, as a U.S.-based company that deals primarily in information, we have urged the United States government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade."
--Google Blog