Gates: Chinese Internet Censorship 'Very Limited'

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates downplayed Chinese government Internet censorship when asked about the matter in a Monday ABC TV interview.

"Fortunately, the Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited," Gates said on the "Good Morning America" show (comment starts at 5:18). "It's easy to go around it, and so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important."

The context for Gates' comment was Google's statement on Jan. 12 that it might reconsider its operations in China, which includes censoring its portal on behalf of the Chinese government. Google CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed last week that the company might change its approach to censorship of the portal.

Google's announcement drew praise from human rights organizations and Internet privacy organizations. A blog by the Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed with Google's approach. The EFF blog also concurred with Gates' idea that the censorship in China could be easily bypassed.

"There continue to be many ready means for circumventing China's censorship schemes, and we hope Google will continue to provide an uncensored Chinese language search engine, from servers outside China if need be," wrote Danny O'Brien, international outreach coordinator at the EFF.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CNBC earlier this month that Microsoft would comply with Chinese law. However, outside China, Microsoft would only comply if given "legitimate requests" from the Chinese government, Ballmer said.

Ballmer also reportedly told Houston oil company executives last week that "the U.S. is the most extreme when it comes to free speech," according to a Forbes' account.

An organization called the Global Network Initiative -- supported by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and various nongovernmental organizations -- was formed to provide guidance for Internet corporations with regard to government censorship and human rights issues. However, GNI has mostly issued bland statements and it has distanced itself from Google's stance on China, saying there is no single action for it or its members to follow.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Feb 15, 2010

> Don't think Google is at all serious about 'pulling out of China' -- EXACTLY! -->

Fri, Jan 29, 2010 df colo

Once again, Gates and Microsoft demonstrate they simply do not understand the concept of human decency and basic ethics when it conflicts with their desire to grab another dollar.

Wed, Jan 27, 2010

Don't think Google is at all serious about 'pulling out of China', at least not in the long term, especially given the 298+ million internet users. I think it's all about three things: a) Relieving Google of the headache of having to 'filter' results for China and so they would rather the Chinese govt do that as it would save them money, b) Making themselves appear as angels of mercy and saviours of humanity, c) VERY cleverly drawing negative publicity to Microsoft even though it was they who were using an 8 year old browser, and they who were apparently compromised. Side question: Does FF or Opera patch their older browswers as Microsoft does? For example I thought I saw a page on FF's website saying that version 2.x and older are no longer updated and to upgrade to version 3.x for the lateset patches and security, true? Will the French and German govts suggest switching back to IE when FF or Opera has a huge security hole? Yeah,,,, okay....

Wed, Jan 27, 2010

I think he's referring to censorship of those which have 'normal' internet access, such as in places like BeiJing or ShangHai rather than regions with virtual internet blackouts. By 'circumventing' I believe he means by use of things like proxies, remote desktop etc which the they are not blocking effectively. Not saying I agree or disagree with his comments though.

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 Tim Shanghai

Are you kidding me? Limited? After the riots in July, the whole Province was without internet and mobile phone texting until last week (6 months). They have recently "lifed" the ban and allow access to a handful of government new sources. Texting has been restored and people are allowed to text ~20 message per day now. Here is a report:

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