Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Seek Help With China - InformationWeek

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Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Seek Help With China

In letters to a Congressional Human Rights Caucus investigating Chinese censorship, the companies urged the U.S. government to take up the issue during talks with Beijing.

Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. on Wednesday asked the U.S government for help in dealing with state censorship in China and other countries, which have forced the search engines to block information on their sites.

In letters to a Congressional Human Rights Caucus investigating Chinese censorship, the companies urged the U.S. government to take up the issue during talks with Beijing.

"While we will actively work to encourage governments around the world to embrace policies on Internet content that foster the freer exchange of ideas and promote maximum access to information, we also recognize that, acting alone, our leverage and ability to influence government policies in various countries is severely limited," Yahoo and Microsoft said in a joint letter.

Google made a similar request in a separate letter sent by Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel for Google. McLaughlin urged the U.S. government "to treat censorship as a barrier to trade."

The companies also said they were discussing their dealings in China with U.S. officials.

Restricting access to information has become a part of doing business in China for search engines. Microsoft MSN and Google filter search results to abide by Chinese laws and regulations. Yahoo has sidestepped the issue by partnering with Chinese marketplace Alibaba.com, which runs the portal's operations in China.

Google and Microsoft are also calling on the Internet industry to define policies and practices for dealing with government censorship. Both companies tell search-engine users when information is removed due to government restrictions. No details, however, are provided.

"This is not, to be sure, a tremendous advance in transparency to users, but it is at least a meaningful step in the right direction," McLaughlin said in the caucus letter, which was posted on the company's blog.

To avoid problems with the Chinese government, Google has said it won't provide Web mail or blogging services in China. McLaughlin said that would continue until "we are comfortable that we can provide them in a way that protects users."

Microsoft in January was forced to take down the blog of outspoken Chinese journalist Zhao Jing, in order to comply with China's laws. Yahoo last year gave information about journalist Shi Tao's personal email account to Beijing, which later jailed him for 10 years on charges of divulging state secrets.

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