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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

 

Foriegn Censorship - Where is the Outrage?

Like a tsumi originating far off-shore, censorship and privacy invasions by foreign countries and interest group had crashed head-long onto the beachhead of the American companies that we rely on for information. companies and Like a tsunmi, it rises out of the Where is the outrage?

Google's capitulation is well documented. Compare a search for "tiananmen" on American Google to the same search on Chinese Google, and see for yourself. Tanks? What tanks? All I see are pretty buildings, and people having fun!

Google's willingness to censor the Internet for the sake of its Chinese business interests plays right into the hands of a repressive regime which is systematically erasing things like Tiananmen Square from the memory of its people. As the linked page says, "Producer Antony Thomas showed the iconic 'Tank Man' photo to a group of undergraduates at Beijing University - in 1989 the university had been the nerve center of the student movement that inspired the nationwide uprising. None of the students knew what the photo was." Not even the power of the Internet is likely to undercut that dubious achievement... thanks to Google.

Meanwhile, Ebay-owned VoIP provider Skype announces that its Chinese partner, Tom Online, has implemented a text filter to "weed out" correspondence based on content... and Skype has no problem with that. According to Skype's Niklas Zennstrom, "[T]hose things are in no way jeopardising the privacy or the security of any of the users." Riiiight... They just exist to make communication more fun and challenging, like an interactive puzzle.

And, just today, Yahoo is reported to have handed over - not just account records, and not even just emails - but the contents of a draft email account folder. That's right - they have help to imprison a dissident not for what they actually did or said to someone else, but for what they privately recorded, and did not send to any other person!

You may think these abuses of power has no effect on you. But consider the West's Chinese trade imbalance, and resulting desperation to sell into that market. If you should someday rise to a position of prominence, and if you or your employer should then wish to do business with China, what is to prevent them from asking Yahoo! to help them vet you? And if you fail to meet their approval, and it comes down to a choice between you and someone more acceptable, who do you think is going to win? We've already seen how much industry values the Chinese market!

This willing to discard principle maps perfectly onto the other censorship scandal - the Western media's spineless response to the most extreme elements of Islamic fundamentalism. Sure, Mohammad's image is sacred to Islamists. But Mary's image is sacred to a lot of Catholics. That didn't stop a painter from smearing that image with elephant dung, or museums from displaying that image, or news magazines from reproducing that image. The American flag is sacred to some patriots. But that doesn't stop people from burning it; news media from televising that burning; or many commentators from defending and even endorsing that both the burning and the reporting. The "Cartoon Wars" episodes of South Park made that point abundantly clear: Comedy Central had no problem showing Americans of all kinds, including President Bush defectating on and be defectated upon an image of Jesus. But they censored a drawing of Mohammad simply standing in a doorway and handing someone a "salmon helmet" (you'd have to watch the episode to understand).

Sensitivity is fine... but why is some peoples' sensitivity more respected than others? Well, not everybody riots in the streets, stabs offending people in the chest, or cut of offending peoples' heads. Some just turn the other cheek; other's even actively defend the offender!

Again, you may think this doesn't matter to you. But how long before you cannot even say "Mohammad" without chanting "peace be unto him", or whatever the phrase is. More importantly, how long until some other agrieved group - illegal immigrants, or zealots of another faith - learn the lessons that we are currently teaching them: that our principles are for sale. Give us enough yuan, or threaten us dramatically enough, and we are willing to put up with anything.

So we're back to the original question: where is the outrage? I've used yahoo as my primary email address for years, but I'm more than willing to give it up over this. Just show me the look-alike that will promise not to bend over for China. I love Google's technology, but I'd gladly switch to any up-and-comer who shows promise and who promises to be less evil than Google. Why isn't someone making this buying decision easier for me? Am I the only one in this market? Who's with me?

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