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Microsoft, Google Agree to NGO Code of Conduct 59

Posted by Zonk
from the we've-all-been-waiting dept.
Aditi.Tuteja writes "Technology companies have come under fire for providing equipment or software that permits governments to censor information or monitor the online or offline activities of their citizens. For example, last year, Google's approach to the China market was criticized over its creation of a censored, local version of its search engine. Microsoft, Google, and two other technology companies will develop a code of conduct with a coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to promote freedom of expression and privacy rights, they announced Friday. The two companies along with Yahoo, and Vodafone Group said the new guidelines are the result of talks with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School."
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Microsoft, Google Agree to NGO Code of Conduct

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  • Wow! (Score:3, Funny)

    by ChrisZermatt (892665) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @05:37AM (#17693224)
    Big business not raping & pillaging?

    Where's the catch???
  • PR stunt (Score:2, Interesting)

    by timmarhy (659436)
    does google china still censor it's content? yes? then this is a load of bullshit.
    • Re:PR stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

      by massivefoot (922746) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @06:06AM (#17693300)
      If this code of conduct is anywhere near sensible that practice would have to cease. This code of conduct will only have any real effect if the companies involved agree that human rights should take precedence over local law, which will most likely mean having to accept fines or closure of operations in some parts of the world. I somehow doubt that many will be prepared to do that.
    • Re:PR stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zCyl (14362) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @06:24AM (#17693340)
      does google china still censor it's content? yes? then this is a load of bullshit.

      I think you miss the point. Google can afford to say no to China's censorship if all of the major information gateways, i.e., its competitors (MSN, Yahoo, etc), agree to say no under the same set of rules.

      As they are only now developing this, and have not past-tense developed it, evaluating Google's current stance toward China is not yet a valid test.
      • by dangitman (862676)

        I think you miss the point. Google can afford to say no to China's censorship if all of the major information gateways, i.e., its competitors (MSN, Yahoo, etc), agree to say no under the same set of rules.

        That doesn't make any sense whatsoever. If it can afford to do it if its competitors pulled out, why couldn't it afford to do it if they don't? I thought Google was making a profit before it went into China, anyway.

        If anything, if the others agree to pull out, Google would stand to make more profit if it stayed, because there would be less competition.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Jesterthe3rd (960830)
          Pulling out on it's own with it's direct competitors staying would lose them considerable market share, making their competitors stronger. No one's going to leave China without the others. Therefore the Code of Conduct.
          • by dangitman (862676)

            Pulling out on it's own with it's direct competitors staying would lose them considerable market share, making their competitors stronger.

            So what if their competitors were stronger? That doesn't mean Google "couldn't afford it." On the contrary, going in with competition would have made them less money. So what's the big deal? Google also would not have lost marketshare by not going into China - they just would not have gained marketshare in China. It's not like marketshare in China was something they had before going in - so what would they actually lose?

            • What about importance in a large, rapidly growing market? They wouldn't lose today's market share, but tomorrow's. There share will shrink if they don't develop new, especially foreign markets.
              • by dangitman (862676)

                What about importance in a large, rapidly growing market?

                What about it? If you can't be a profitable company without resorting to unethical activities, you shouldn't be in business. I suppose Google should get into selling drugs to schoolchildren, because if they don't, their competitors will.

                They wouldn't lose today's market share, but tomorrow's. There share will shrink if they don't develop new, especially foreign markets.

                But markertshare is not important in itself. Profits are why a company exists, not marketshare. They can easily be profitable without going into China. Furthermore, Google claim their motive is also to "not be evil" - so profits are not the sole consideration.

                • You are right that there are different ways to act in this situation. My point is, while they might get good publicity out of it, it's not a PR stunt by itself. There are economical reasons why they should ensure their competitors follow the same ethical code as they do.
      • by adam (1231) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @07:12AM (#17693460)
        I agree with your assessment of why they are aiming at a uniform agreement between all the major providers. (and I also agree that the parent is probably missing this point)

        But the principle you explained is fundamentally flawed. (Don't worry, I know you didn't think of this principle, and I'm not criticizing you.. I simply want to point out some problems with it)

        It is akin to saying, "hey, drugs are bad, so let's all make a rule saying no one will sell drugs anymore. In fact, to deter people, let's make another rule saying you go to jail if you do!" ...and with that, America's drug problems were solved!

        The point is, it's a matter of supply and demand. If google, msn, yahoo all agree to provide the whole truth and nothing but the truth to chinese citizens.. and to refuse to turn in chinese bloggers (etc).. i suspect they will find themselves firewalled. And then one of the lower guys on the totem pole will climb to the top in china. Either an engine with a lower market share, such as Ask/AltaVista/etc will step up, or perhaps google.cn will just magically DNS resolve to a state-run search engine.

        I think MSFT/GOOG/Y! are doing the right thing by agreeing to resolve to not do BadThings[tm], but this is only a step, and won't solve the problem that China doesn't want its people to read/see/say certain things. Maybe faced with the efforts involved in bypassing MSFT/GOOG/Y!, this might at least soften China's resistance somewhat (information wants to be free, and they will have to face and accept this at some point), but I don't see the proverbial dam busting anytime soon.
        • by gravesb (967413)
          No, it won't burst the damn, but it is some private companies doing what little they can. China survived without them before the Internet, and will continue to do so after. However, every little bit counts, and so this is just one more step on the way to an open China. For another example, look at China's new accounting rules.
        • by X (1235)

          And then one of the lower guys on the totem pole will climb to the top in china. Either an engine with a lower market share, such as Ask/AltaVista/etc will step up, or perhaps google.cn will just magically DNS resolve to a state-run search engine.

          Hehe. For the record AltaVista *is* Yahoo.

          I love how we think in such western terms. In terms of search engines, the largest market share is *already* a Chinese company. With auctions, it's also a Chinese company (although one that Yahoo now owns a non-controlling

        • Only one problem with your idea of how local companies will just rise on the local totem pole and replace these search service providers with local talent. The problem is that what the customers/surfers are often looking for in Google/Y!/MSN is often exactly that which the local providers CANNOT provide. That is uncensored content. Granted, not everyone in the PRC logs on to their computer and searches for the dead bodies on Tiannamen Square, but they want what we got with Google: find what we are looking f
        • by zCyl (14362)

          Maybe faced with the efforts involved in bypassing MSFT/GOOG/Y!, this might at least soften China's resistance somewhat (information wants to be free, and they will have to face and accept this at some point), but I don't see the proverbial dam busting anytime soon.

          The more potent force will probably be the Chinese public. It's not like they can get on the internet and not KNOW when their government is blocking microsoft, google, and yahoo. And they will see plainly that people elsewhere are fond of these

      • This could be Googles path to get out of the China deal. At the time they made the China deal, they didn't have such a standard to rely on.

        In the future when dealing with oppressive governments they can now say,
        "WHOA! We are a participant in this set of rules, which we can not break. If you want Google, you have to change, not us."

        Once these set of rules and agreements are out, I suspect a lot of companies will be eager to sign on, thus giving them an safety ring.
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      i don't miss the point at all. even if all the major players agree to this, your just setting up a situation where there's a gap for a company with less scruples to fill the void. and believe me there won't be any lack of takers. this thing is never going to work and i think MS and google know it.
      • You're probably right about that, but what do you want them to do? Now it just seems like you are just going to blame them for anything that they do. There are almost as many Google-haters out there now as there are MS-haters (not really, but there sure are a lot).

        Google is bad for censoring the internet in China, but when they try to create an agreement to stop censoring the internet in China, you think its just a PR stunt. If Google pulls out of China, you say that there will be others who just fill
    • Baby steps. If they didn't filter content, China would block them altogether. At least the signal is still getting through (albeit molested). Give it time, it'll change. You can't stop the signal...
  • Summary (Score:4, Funny)

    by Psychotria (953670) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @05:52AM (#17693260)
    This code of conduct (CCC) for nongovernmtal organisations (NGOs) is a result of BSR and shows the effectiveness of clear communication and cooperation (CCC). The groups participating in the guidelines (apart from MS and G) are BCISH, BSR, EFF, HRW and RWB. A YS (Yahoo subsidiary) was cited by HRGs to identify PAs who were posting AGOs and O&I online.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I find your TSR's very WTF. Please STFU. :)=)
  • by BillGatesLoveChild (1046184) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @06:19AM (#17693334) Journal
    Yahoo in particular got in pretty thick with the Chinese Government, helping them find and jail those reporters and bloggers. Jerry Wang was completely unapologetic about it.

    Here's several pages of waffle by Yahoo's Media Relations department: http://yhoo.client.shareholder.com/press/ReleaseDe tail.cfm?ReleaseID=187725 [shareholder.com]
    So far as I can tell, it says absolutely nothing.

    The Hong Kong Journalists association is much more to the point: http://www.fcchk.org/media/FCCToYahoo2.htm [fcchk.org]

    I find it a little hard to believe Yahoo is going to do an about face. Can you imagine Yahoo executives at their next liason with the Chinese Government telling them "Ok, Commies, the rules have just changed. From now on, we're going to insist things are done right around here!" It's a nice thought, but it just isn't going to happen. Walk away from money? Never! (Unless they think they've lost the market to locals anyway?)

    If those companies came out together publicly and criticized the Chinese Government, we might see something. But short of that I'm guessing it's just to make us feel better. "Oh Google and Yahoo? That's old hat; They have an NGO Code of Conduct now."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    FYI:

    The recent MSFT shareholder voting had the question of whether Microsoft should be prevented or not selling their technology to regiemes with history of human rights volations, the board recommendation was to NOT RESTRICT the selling of their (Microsoft's) technology to China etc.

    I hope those with the right to vote on these corporate issues did so.

    I voted the entire of MSFT out btw, wont happen but I voted that way anyway :) and against most of the board's recomendations :)
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Raise questions when you can at conference calls and on shareholder forms, they are accountable to YOU and you have the right as a shareholder to question them :) Use the rights YOU have.

      Owning a company stock does not give you the potential to make money, it also gives you the potential to shape the company after all you OWN a part of it :)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "The recent MSFT shareholder voting had the question of whether Microsoft should be prevented (from) selling their technology to regiemes with history of human rights violations..."

      So Microsoft shareholders were asked to vote on whether the company should withhold its technology from the Bush administration?
    • Is that really all that surprising? More market means more profit. More profit means more money for the shareholders. Far too often, money comes before morals in the world of stocks.
  • the code... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by joe 155 (937621) on Saturday January 20, 2007 @07:38AM (#17693532) Journal
    ...shouldn't require them not to censor any content as some people have been suggesting. I actually like the way Google is dealing with China, as I understand it they don't give the full results but do tell you you're not getting the full results. So long as people know that there is more out there but you are not allowed to see the content it should at least;

    1) make people aware that their government is doing this to them, maybe making people push for more openess
    2) if the government ever does back down and open up it should make the transition a lot easier

    People ultimately want to know what they are having withheld from them... Just not telling them and not letting them know you're censoring is the worst of all worlds, and that is what they would get from the state engines that would replace an open google
    • people know that there is more out there but you are not allowed to see the content

      I think the worst isn't the content alone, but the way those companies cooperate with authoritarian regimes in identifying people.

      In Brazil, Google has fully cooperated with the government for the most absurd reasons. One recent example: they handed over IP addresses of people who participated in an Orkut community called "Eu sei dirigir bêbado" ("I know how to drive drunk"). The reason was that this was, allegedly, "ap

      • by grimwell (141031)

        One recent example: they handed over IP addresses of people who participated in an Orkut community called "Eu sei dirigir bêbado" ("I know how to drive drunk"). The reason was that this was, allegedly, "apology of crime", a felony according to the draconian "liberty of expression" laws in Brazil.

        Curious. So, you would be against say myspace.com providing information to the authorities when someone posts about their crimes(e.g. randomly shooting people with a paint-ball gun from a moving car)

        If you com

        • by mangu (126918)
          If you communicate in a public forum about a crime you have committed(or planning to commit), you can expect the local law enforcement to use that speech against you. Yes/No?

          Define "crime". If you murder someone and post the video online, then I believe it's OK for Google to provide information to authorities, of course.

          But in the case I mentioned I would expect Google to do some screening on what is exactly defined as a "crime". If the law says it's a felony for you to say "I believe marijuana should be l

          • by orkysoft (93727)
            There's a world of difference between glorifying crime (and encouraging other people to engage in it) and saying that you think this crime should become legal.
          • by grimwell (141031)

            Define "crime". If you murder someone and post the video online, then I believe it's OK for Google to provide information to authorities, of course.

            There is part of rub; what is a crime? Only the law makers & courts of that country can define what is illegal.

            But in the case I mentioned I would expect Google to do some screening on what is exactly defined as a "crime". If the law says it's a felony for you to say "I believe marijuana should be legalized", then I don't think Google should comply with tha

    • by Rix (54095)
      The Chinese are not children, they know very well that they're being censored, whether Google tells them or not. This just makes them far less likely to try to get around the censorship, making it easier for the government to crack down on people who do.
  • MS and google are just the players I would expect to craft guidelines specifically for the purpose of making it look like they're trying while simultaneously allowing the to run all over their customers' rights. They'd be better at it than government! (Well considering that a lot of regulatory legislation is drafted by the business that legislates, the government is often as "good" as business in that regard.)
  • Cats and dogs shall lie down together ....

    bugger !

  • Let me tell you what will happen if they do not agree to censor results.

    China will ban them from doing business there, and the Chinese people will just wake up and find google not available, and after 6 months of unavailability, they will forget about the whole Google thing. Some Chinese will remember, in their old age, the times when they could go too google, but how they had to switch to Baidu, and how it went on to become the largest search engine in the world.

    The Chinese do not appreciate people or enti
  • That's great, but it doesn't mean a damn thing. It's their word, against their actions. Simply public relations stuff. They'll do what they can under the radar, and the countries will oblige them because they want the company to do business with them.

    Just moving more of the motions which make the world turn 'round under the table.
  • The United States of America is waging a war to subvert and change governments in its "stategic" aim to subdue the world, and especially frantically now that it remains the only superpower, so the gnomes in power believe they have "a window of opportunity" to site the lingo of their official and pretty well known documents. It is factually untrue to state that MS and Google are fughting towards a high goal, diminishing of censorship or something like that. Google routinely censors opinion in Europe, as one
  • A convicted monopolist is going to help tell other companies how to behave nicely?

    "...to promote freedom of expression and privacy rights...", all the while cramming DRM down our throats.

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