Yahoo!, Microsoft ink web pact with Chinese government
by Cade Metz
Microsoft and Yahoo! have signed a pact with the Chinese government that "encourages" the big name web players to record the identities of bloggers and censor content. So says Reporters Without Borders, an organization that fights for journalistic rights across the globe.
The French advocacy group reports that at least 20 blogging services, including Yahoo!.cn and MSN.cn, have agreed to the new "self-discipline pact" laid down by the Internet Society of China, a spin-off from the Information Industry Ministry. Under the pact, the services are encouraged to store the real names and contact details of Chinese bloggers and delete "illegal and bad" information from user comments.
The pact doesn't require the services to register bloggers under their real names, as was previously proposed, but Reporters Without Borders is adamant that the agreement will significantly undermine free speech. "This decision will have grave consequences for the Chinese blogosphere and marks the end of anonymous blogging," the organization said. "A new wave of censorship and repression seems imminent."
The worry is that the government will now have the power to finger Chinese bloggers and punish them for material it doesn't approve of. "The Chinese government has yet again forced Internet sector companies to cooperate on sensitive issues - in this case, blogger registration and blog content," Reporters Without Borders said. "As they already did with website hosting services, the authorities have given themselves the means to identify those posting 'subversive' content by imposing a self-discipline pact."
This is a particularly sensitive issue for Yahoo! The company is facing a US lawsuit over journalist Shi Tao, who was jailed after the company delivered information about his web doings to the Chinese government, and the case has sparked an investigation in the US Senate, following claims that Yahoo! tried to cover-up its involvement in the jailing.
When we asked Yahoo! about its new pact with the Internet Society of China, it referred us to a company called Alibaba, which "manages" Yahoo!'s China arm. We contacted Alibaba as well, but the company didn't immediately respond.
Initially, we didn't hear back from Microsoft either, but the company told The Los Angeles Times that it would not ask bloggers to reveal their identities. "The document makes some recommendations that Microsoft does not support," said Adam Sohn, director of Microsoft's online services group. "We will not implement real-name registration for blogging in our Windows Live Spaces service." Which makes you wonder why the company has agreed to sign the pact.Update
Eventually, Microsoft did get back to us, and though they couldn't grant us an interview, they were much more forthcoming than Yahoo! When we asked it the company had indeed signed the pact and what effect it would have on policies, this was its response:
So there you have it. The company does not plan on registering bloggers with their real names and contact details. Of course, at least 19 other web services have also signed the pact. ®
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