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January 31, 2006

Microsoft Outlines Blog Policy

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Microsoft Corp., stung by criticism for taking down the blog of outspoken Chinese journalist Zhao Jing, unveiled on Tuesday its policy for accessing content on its blogging service MSN Spaces.

In addition, Brad Smith, general counsel and senior vice president for Microsoft, called for a broad international dialogue to establish a set of principles for Internet companies with services in different regions of the world.

Speaking at a Microsoft conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Smith told the gathering of government officials and community leaders that the company was committed to the sharing of information and ideas through blogs and that the new policies were a guide for dealing with government orders.

Under the framework, Microsoft would remove access to blog content only when it received a government-issued, legally binding notice indicating that the material violated local laws.

Under those conditions, the company would remove access to content only in the country issuing the order, leaving it accessible to people in other countries. Microsoft would also notify users prevented from accessing the content that it is unavailable due to government restrictions.

Smith called on industry, governments and advocacy groups to begin a dialogue on a set of principles that could guide the policies and practices of Internet companies providing services internationally. Microsoft says it hosts 35 million blogs on MSN Spaces, which attracts more than 90 million unique users each month.

Offering blogging services, even in restrictive markets, is better than not offering the services at all, Smith said in a statement, "but there remains a need for clear principles to guide new technology and policy decisions."

Microsoft Zhao's blog New Years Eve, saying that it was complying with Chinese law. The blog was replaced with the message, "This space is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later."

Zhao, aka Michael Anti, is among a number of Chinese who have grown in popularity in the Communist nation where the general media is government controlled.

Microsoft is not the first company forced to tailor its products to avoid conflicting with China's harsh rules on distributing information. Google last week launched of its search engine in China, choosing to drop Web mail and blogging services and to block access to some search results.

The Chinese-language version of Google's U.S. search engine was difficult to access in China. Experts believe Chinese censors may have blocked the site at times, while considering whether certain information was acceptable.

Google has also said it would notify people looking for restricted information on its special Chinese site that it's unavailable due to government rules.

China last year started tightening its control over Internet services, but has yet to launch a major crackdown on bloggers. Experts believe the government is still struggling with media control without stymieing the country's emerging Internet businesses. China is the second largest Internet market, and is growing quickly.

Microsoft is not the only U.S. tech company that freedom of speech advocates have accused of helping the Chinese government in controlling the media. Yahoo in September 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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