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Amnesty shames big 3 on China

Operators and manufacturers considering which IP applications to put on their mobiles will be mindful of a campaign by Amnesty International which is urging UK users to email Microsoft, Google and Yahoo asking why they operate in China.

The civil liberties/human rights group is upping the pressure on three of the biggest names in technology, alleging they are helping the Communist state censor the internet. Amnesty is also applying direct pressure by asking the companies which words they are blocking in China.

In The Observer’s Blog, hosted by the UK’s Guardian Newspaper, Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, says customers of the three firms should be asking difficult questions about their activities in China.

In a scathing editorial, Allen ridicules the firms for their actions and chastises them for their position on the debacle. “When it comes to China, it seems they just do what they’re told – shut down blogs and websites, filter searches and in the case of Yahoo, help to send people to prison just for the content of an email.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, Yahoo signed a major deal with Motorola to put its IM, email and calendar products onto the firm’s handsets and Microsoft and Google are locked in a race to deliver similar solutions to other manufacturers. The move towards IP-based applications means these brands will face consumers increasingly on handsets, PDAs and other mobile devices.

Amnesty is banking on the call to action to shame the companies. Brand specialist Sean Pillot de Chenecy, founder of the CaptainCrikey analyst firm, has no doubt, the group’s action will have a “profoundly negative effect” on all three brands. “The Chinese government won’t listen to other governments but it will listen to corporations putting money its way,” de Chenecy explained. “This is the only way to do business [with the Chinese].”

However, the effect of seeing Amnesty equate Google et al with Chinese oppression, is, argues de Chenecy, something that will linger in the mind. “Doing business in an ethical and decent way is what consumers want from the companies they buy things from. In the back of people’s minds, if they equate Google with Chinese oppression, they’ll look elsewhere. The question here though, is how easy is it for the consumer to easily get an alternative.”

Google has attempted to limit the damage to its brand by arguing that its service benefits the Chinese. In a statement the company said: “Google respects the fact that people and organisations, including Amnesty, oppose our decision to launch a search service in China. Google believes that Google.cn will provide significant benefits to Chinese Internet users and that our engagement in China meaningfully expands access to information there.”

Allen dismissed Google’s claims. She said: “This argument just doesn’t hold water: China had access to the internet for 10 years before these companies were trying to do business there… The reality is that they are trying to get a slice of a very lucrative and rapidly-expanding market. Having yet another censored search engine or another ISP that takes down blogs at the behest of the government is not affecting change from within – it is pandering to repression.”

Microsoft, which has managed to escape much of the controversy over its decision to stay in China said: “In China, certain URLs and keywords are blocked at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level or at the backbone or international gateway level. We remove some (but not all) of these URLs from our results pages because we want to limit the number of results that lead to dead links. In addition, MSN Search China removes a small number of URLs from the result pages in the China Search site to omit inappropriate content as determined by local practice, law or regulation. In all such cases where we remove URLs we notify users if search results have been filtered. But we neither engage in keyword filtering nor block whole queries.”

Yahoo did not respond to requests for interview.


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