CHINA: China Ratchets Up Web Privacy Fight

Publisher Name: 
Wall Street Journal

Chinese state-run media trumpeted comments by Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates
that played down China's Internet restrictions, as the government
continued to ratchet up its rebuttal of recent U.S. criticisms of its
Web policies.


Getty Images

Bill Gates

Mr. Gates, in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" this
week, said that China's "efforts to censor the Internet have been very
limited," and likened its controls to those of other countries. In
separate comments, he criticized Microsoft rival Google
Inc.'s statement this month that it would stop obeying Beijing's
censorship rules on its Chinese-language site, and might close its
offices in the country.

On Wednesday, several Chinese newspapers gave the comments prominent
display. "Bill Gates Bats for China," read the lead headline in the
English edition of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the
People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper. The tabloid's
Chinese version, which claims a daily circulation of 1.5 million, also
devoted its front page to Mr. Gates's comments and to Western media
reports of them, while China Daily, the country's main English-language
paper,also highlighted the comments on page one.

Mr. Gates's comments echoed similar remarks made last week by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer,
but Mr. Gates's celebrity status in China appears to have given his
words greater weight. His comments followed a speech by U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton last week vowing to make Internet freedom a
centerpiece of American foreign policy and praising U.S. companies that
promote free information.

Chinese media have mounted a concerted effort to discredit Mrs.
Clinton's remarks about China in that speech, as well as Google's
allegations in its Jan. 12 statement that it and other companies were
targeted by cyberattacks originating in China. Dozens of commentaries
published since last week have described the U.S. criticism as
hypocritical and alleged that Google is being used as a pawn by

Mr. Gates said the Internet has helped free expression, and that in
China it is "easy to go around" the government's system of controls.
"And so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important,"
he added. He said other countries restrict some Web content, such as
pornography, and noted that Germany censors statements related to the
Nazi Party. "And so you've got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws
of the countries you're in, or not?" the Microsoft co-founder told ABC
host George Stephanopoulos on Monday.

Chinese officials have made similar statements, saying China's
management of the Internet is in line with international practice and
that foreign companies in China must obey its laws. In separate
comments Monday to the New York Times, Mr. Gates belittled Google's
China statement. "They've done nothing and gotten a lot of credit for
it," he said. "What point are they making?"

China's Internet controls go far beyond those of countries like
Germany, censoring a wide range of politically sensitive content and
blocking access entirely to foreign sites like YouTube and Facebook.
Chinese authorities have arrested numerous dissidents for using the
Internet to criticize the government, including Zhao Lianhai, who was
jailed last year for running a Web site to help families like his whose
children were poisoned by tainted milk powder made by government-owned

Simon Leung, who is head of Microsoft's China operations, declined
to comment on the Chinese media's response to Mr. Gates's statements.

Lian Yue, a prominent Chinese blogger, wrote on Twitter that he
thought Mr. Gates' critique of Google was "silly and unfair," and that
his defense of Beijing's position "is unwise even from a pure business
perspective, as it is damaging to Microsoft's commercial reputation."

Microsoft's Internet business has struggled to gain a foothold in
China. The Web search market here is dominated by Inc. and
Google, which had combined market share of about 94% in the fourth
quarter of 2009, according to research firm Analysys International.
Microsoft in June introduced a Chinese version of its Bing search
engine, which like other search engines in China strips politically
sensitive links from its search results. In 2006, Microsoft was
criticized by U.S. lawmakers and free speech advocates after it deleted
a popular Chinese blog that was critical of the government at the
request of Chinese authorities.

In a separate development, a Ministry of Industry and Information
Technology spokesman said the Chinese government won't limit the use of
Google's Android operating system for mobile devices by Chinese
telecommunications operators. The comments were China's first official
word on the future of the Android operating system since Google's
announcement that it will stop obeying government censorship rules on
its Chinese search site as a result of concerns over hacking and

The spokesman's comments suggest that the government might be open
to permitting parts of Google's business to continue to function in
China despite that announcement.

"As long as it complies with Chinese laws and regulations, and as
long as it has good cooperation with operators ... their use of the
system won't be limited." MIIT spokesman Zhu Hongren said Wednesday at
an annual news briefing.

There are several Android-based phones already in China, and the
country's three major telecom carriers-all of which are state-owned-are
planning to launch more. Last week, Google said it was delaying the
planned China launch of two mobile-phone models using Android. The
phones, made in partnership with Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Inc., were to be sold in partnership with carrier China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd.

-Aaron Back and Sue Feng contributed to this article.

AMP Section Name:Technology & Telecommunications