July 27, 2006



...Microsoft helps to block anti-government blogs in China; Google censors its search engine there; Yahoo! turns over user information to Chinese authorities—including two journalists who were eventually prosecuted.
...These stories have been in the news for several months, and more recently Amnesty International has released a report entitled Undermining Freedom of Expression in China: The Role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google, which offers 32 pages with a scope from freedom of expression in general to the role of Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google.
...Over the last few weeks I’ve internally debated my role in the censorship issue, as my blog host is Blogger: a Google affiliate. I’m a huge supporter of free speech, but has my use of Blogger facilitated the growth of Google, helping them to gain a foothold in China, and ultimately helped to imprison two journalists who were guilty of one thing: harboring dissent and talking about it?
...To ask bluntly, have those of us who use Blogger, MSN Spaces, and Yahoo! 360° essentially helped to put these people behind bars for engaging in an act which those of us in the United States take for granted?
...Or is this just our ability to take advantage of our situation, whereas those in China aren’t as fortunate? We live in a country where we can criticize our local, state, and federal governments; we live in a country where we can criticize asinine laws and illegal pay raises; we live in a country where we can debate issues in an effort to come to some kind of solution. Even if a solution is never attained, we have the right to vent our dissent and not have to worry about facing the possibility of winding up behind bars.
...Are these nothing more than examples of why we should consider ourselves some of the luckiest people on the face of the Earth? Are they examples which lend themselves to suggest that we should criticize the Chinese government instead of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft? After all, it could be argued, these companies aren’t the ones making the laws—they’re only obeying them.
...With that said, it could also be argued that users of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have helped to aid and abet in the silencing of voices which have raised crucial questions and offered pertinent criticism. Have we indirectly helped to put them where they are now? After all, no one forced these companies to take advantage of the growing Chinese economy.
...I don’t have an answer, which is why I referred to this as my dilemma in the comments section of the previous post. I’m usually unwavering in my beliefs, but this one has me torn. Is it because I don’t want to feel guilt knowing that I use at least one service from each of these companies, or is it because I realize that I’m extremely lucky to be a citizen of a country which has better free speech guidelines and other countries have censorship levels that might never change—no matter which company sets up shop there?


Blogger Legally Insane said...

the question you pose is a terribly important and insightful one. but i dont think the vast majority of americans lie awake at night over this issue. the fact that this causes you consternation says a lot about you. i think socrates would be happy to say that you live an examined life.

the question you pose seems analogous to pollution and global warming. how should i feel about global warming when everytime i drive a car and burn one gallon of gas, i create twenty pounds of carbon dioxide emissions?

would i give up driving as a means of transportation or would i give up coal-produced electricity just to help affect what little impact i could make on global warming? probably not. considering the economy of scales, i doubt one driver permanently off the streets could ever make that much of a difference.

and that is why it is hard to get people to give up something they rely upon: would one act really make a difference?

part of the problem of living in a consumer oriented ecomony is that a person's value is reduced to his or her purchasing power. if a person cannot afford to buy whatever product is being touted, their existence becomes almost negligible. no one cares. certainly not corporations.

and if a person cannot or does not vote, their value to politicians also become similarily inconsequential.

society, in a sense, is nothing more than market forces and market trends. those who operate outside those forces and trends become outliers... things to be either explained away or ignored altogether.

on the other hand, a corporation has only one legal duty: to make a profit for its shareholders. so these internet companies goes off to other parts of the world and tries to make a profit. to make a profit, they have to follow the laws of the country where they do business.

if a chinese company came to america and refused to provide information under the patriot act because they believed the law was immoral and illegal, i don't think we we would be none too pleased.

likewise, the internet companies are in the same predicament when they go to china. it is not like these companies are taking the profits made in america and then using them to engage in their own nefarious agenda of enslaving or destroying other countries. all they are doing is following the laws in china in order to make a profit.

sure, the companies might say that doing business in such a country goes against their mission statement. and that might work in countries like sudan, iran, or north korea, but the problem with china is their huge market potential of a growing middle and upper class that has an ever increasing purchasing potential that would even make karl marx salivate at the prospects of making a buck or two their.

is that wrong? perhaps. but if american companies did not do it, french, japan, and korean companies probably would. and once they have established a foothold on the chinese economy, they will have a huge advantage over american companies if and when the government ever liberalizes.

besides, for every new technological advancement in communication--whether instant messaging, blogs, cell phones, chat rooms, etc.--it becomes evermore difficult for the chinese government to censor them. i heard that china may have some 65 million blogs. wow. and as that number increases, it becomes more difficult to censor them.

perhaps, even exponentially more difficult.

and so by increasing the number of blogs that we have in america that may be accessible to the chinese, we are compounding the difficulty of the chinese government to regulate and to censor what information their people may have access to.

therefore, it may be argued that you are helping oppress the chinese by boycotting blogger...

July 28, 2006  
Blogger Dana said...

This is such a right-on question. It definitely makes me think!

July 28, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

If that’s the case, I’ll be more than happy to keep writing ad nauseam. Knowing that I might be a miniscule drop in a global bucket might seem disconcerting at first, but it’s still one more drop.

I really didn’t want to cease my blogging endeavors, simply because this communication medium has given me a little bit of hope after discovering a few sane people that I might not have otherwise discovered.

July 28, 2006  
Blogger soaf-a-loaf said...

Hi, I'm a chinese citizen and I lived in China for about twelve years. When I left China four years ago computer was not an affordable device for most chinese families and it definately wasn't one of the "must-have" household items. In fact, the only place where computer was accessable by normal people were these little computer cafes where people can come and pay to use computers. Students were restricted from going to these cafes and schools had almost no interest of teaching students how to type. Only those who are in elite part of the society had enough money and education in using computers. That's a very limited number of people. Also, because of over population, 130 to 160% of college graduates cannot find jobs. So in other words, normal people in China is so busy trying to survive through life, they won't have time to speak up or they wouldn't care at all.

July 28, 2006  
Blogger Legally Insane said...

as someone once noted, a drop at a time matters. it is in fact possible to drain the entire pacific ocean using nothing more than a teaspoon.

as an example of how technology can be used to circumvent technology, one reason i have been putting screen shots of image files on my blog is because the text they contain are not searchable or indexable by search engines.

thus, if there were a smart chinaman or two with half a brain cell to bypass china's censorship policy, perhaps they could post text files as image files on the internet using the ubiquitous .jpg file format.

July 28, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

Soaf-a-loaf, thanks for letting me know about that. That’s one aspect that I hadn’t really considered. When the most basic necessities aren’t being met, it can be rather pointless to worry about something bigger.

L.I., I feel dumb for not having thought of something like that. Don’t be surprised to see me experimenting with that idea over the next few weeks.

July 28, 2006  
Blogger 1Green Thumb said...

I feel that Yahoo is the biggest problem, they are the ones that without even questioning it, turned over the info to the chinese government. This is why the journalists are sitting in jail right now. At least Google tells you that results are being censored in china. Microsoft and Yahoo do not even tell the citizens of China that there search results are even being censored at all. Also people in China can still access the regular Google page, it just takes a lot longer. I do not have a real solution for this, but I know that the Chinese government cannot censor everything and free speech will happen if the people so choose. As the internet grows in China the amount of info that "needs" to be censored will grow as well.

August 05, 2006  

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