Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rights and Reason: Either Microsoft corrects itself, or it destroys itself

The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism was conceived out of desire to support Microsoft in its fight against unjust antitrust assault. While we were initially allied with Microsoft, we have subsequently parted ways, in part due to the firm’s unwillingness to challenge the legitimacy of the antitrust laws themselves. Nevertheless, we continued to support the firm in principle, as an example of the unjust punishment of entrepreneurial success.

Today, however, I am shocked and utterly appalled that Microsoft has allowed itself to become a pawn for the Chinese authoritarian state. According to Forbes.com:

The MSN Spaces-hosted blog of Michael Anti, a Beijing-based researcher for the New York Times, was closed down after he had posted articles critical of a management purge at Beijing News.

The editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, Yang Bin, and two deputy editors, Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu, were sacked last week after they were called into a meeting by the heads of the parent company, the conservative Guangming Daily.

The management purge then led to a walkout by journalists at the newspaper.

The Beijing News had printed a string of sensitive stories, including on police beatings of villagers, as well as routine scathing editorials on a host of problems including corruption.

Speaking from Beijing, Anti said he has not yet received any response from Microsoft's customer service department on the shutting of his MSN Spaces site.

'I posted three posts about the Beijing news and all posts and articles were deleted inside China,' Anti said. 'MSN Spaces (has) now deleted all of my articles and I have no backup and I'm very angry.'

Microsoft faced an outcry from internet users when it was revealed last year that its Chinese blogging service restricted the entry of terms such as 'demonstration', 'democratic movement' and 'Taiwan independence'.
If Microsoft has allowed the Chinese government control of its servers and products, it has permitted an unprecedented surrender of freedom and personal autonomy, and it deserves our complete contempt.

I am aware that Microsoft is not the only American firm guilty of such a surrender. All American firms must reconcile their desire to do business with the Chinese with China’s authoritarianism. That reconciliation must not come at the price of freedom. The Chinese need us and our money more then we need them—let the Chinese government be the one to bend.

Microsoft must restore Michael Anti’s website and cease allowing the Chinese government to censor the Internet. If it fails to do this, its employees should quit and people should boycott the firm on the grounds that it has ceased to be a company that supports freedom. There is no middle ground on the freedom of speech in question here. Either Microsoft chooses to correct itself, or it chooses to destroy itself.

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