Sunday, February 01, 2004

It's Microsoft, So it Must be Guilty

God knows I don't like Microsoft - I think it's a rapacious monopoly, and Thomas Penfield Jackson's initial verdict was more on the mark than the slap on the wrist imposed by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly - but this article accusing Microsoft of culpability in Communist China's suppression of free speech seems totally off the mark to me.

Technology sold by Microsoft to the Chinese government has been used by Beijing to censor the internet, and resulted in the jailing of its political opponents.

An Amnesty International report has cited Microsoft among a clutch of leading computer firms heavily criticised for helping to fuel 'a dramatic rise in the number of people detained or sentenced for internet-related offences'.

The human rights group has slated Bill Gates's company for an 'inadequate response' to escalating abuses in China. 'We don't believe this is appropriate or responsible,' said Mark Allison, an Amnesty International researcher who wrote the report. '[Microsoft] should be more concerned about human rights abuses and should be using its influence to lift restrictions on freedom of expression and get people out of prison. It is worrying that they don't seem to have raised these issues.'

Amnesty believes Microsoft is in violation of a new United Nations Human Rights code for multinationals which says businesses should 'seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights'.

It would be one thing if Microsoft had actually collaborated with the Chinese government in specifically designing systems for monitoring and shutting down dissidents, but as far as I can tell, the firm's activities in China amount to nothing more than the same old struggle to ship boxed-product, nothing to get excited about. Castigating Microsoft for selling Windows XP or Office 2003 to the Chinese government makes about as much sense as bashing farmers for selling wheat to the Communist regime - the items being sold are hardly crucial to the repressive activities of the government, and it isn't as if they can't be bought elsewhere. Anything being done by the Chinese government with Microsoft's products could just as easily be done with open source alternatives like OpenOffice and Linux. There is absolutely nothing newsworthy about this story other than the fact that "Microsoft" and "human rights" are being mentioned in the same article.