Bill Gates, wrong too

Bill Gates, wrong too

Summary: Bill Gates stepped up to defend Google and, by extension, his own company's support of censorship.

TOPICS: Censorship

The Times of London reports that Bill Gates has come to the defense of Google, which announced it would join MSN and Yahoo! in censoring its Chinse search results:

Bill Gates... argued that state censorship was no reason for technology companies not to do business in China.

The richest man in the world told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he thought the internet "is contributing to Chinese political engagement" as "access to the outside world is preventing more censorship".

On the same day he did another good deed for mankind for which I continue to admire Gates, contributing $900 million toward a cure to tuberculosis, he followed the example of many rich men and defended his shortcomings with promises of advances for the masses in exchange for tolerance of business collusion with abusive governments.

Progress is a process of negotiation between the past and future, there's no doubt about that. But abetting a tyranny is always wrong, no matter how you dress it. Bill Gates can say this today, but he isn't doing any favors for the people in China who will suffer today because of the censorship he condones. 

A teenage Chinese girl seeking information about birth control won't find the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnance site on Google (though she will find it on Yahoo! and MSN), but she may get a cure to tuberculosis in exchange. That's a calculus of justice that Gates isn't entitled to judge, because those decisions should be up to the individual, not the companies purporting to offer her access to the world's knowledge.

Topic: Censorship

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  • So your saying MS should trample their laws?

    How does that set with your ranting they must follow EU law?
    • Two very different things

      I don't think I've ranted about Microsoft needing to follow EU
      law, rather I've said the EU antitrust remedy is pretty toothless
      and works in Microsoft's favor.

      But, to your point, arguing for strong antitrust enforcement is in
      harmony with calling for strong human rights enforcement,
      because both issues pit the powerless against the powerful. It's
      not about whose laws are right and wrong but about whose laws
      are tyrannical. I think I've been consistent across the board,
      because I support the idea that governments can restrain anti-
      competitive behavior and that governments should not prevent
      competing ideas and ideologies from being aired.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
      • Ah, but that is a "Western" view and not shared

        by everyone in the world. Or to put it another way, who are you (or I) to say China is wrong? I mean I don't particularly agree with their policies, but then I don't agree with a lot of US policy. (the Patriot Act comes quickly to mind.)

        What you are really suggesting is that Gates (US business) press harder to realize the "one world order" many have tried to build in the past. Of course you would like this world order built in the image you want, others may not agree. In fact it's a sure bet they don't.

        This may come as a shock, but this is a big world and "freedom" doesn't hold the sway in some parts of it as it does for you and me. (Most of asia and the mid-east) Sure there are those that live in China that don't like the way things are, but that is also true of some in the US.

        This is a case where MS (Gates) is trying to walk a thin line and GRADUALLY bringing new ideas and concepts to China. Yes it will take time, yes he must walk carefully, and yes people like you need to accept it is not going to change overnight and that you can NOT force your views on other countries.

        In other words, Gates must follow the "law of the land" and present opportunities where he can. Much like MS in the EU...
        • That's a fine rationalization...

          ...but it doesn't hold water when we're talking about morality. I
          am writing from the perspective of a person measuring the
          promises made by Google (that's what this issue revolves
          around, Gates simply injected himself into it) against its actions.
          I am not "forcing" my views on other countries and, frankly,
          don't mind differing with the Chinese government vis-a-vis its
          definition of morality.

          In other postings on this subject, I've acknowledged the
          pragmatic issues involved and it isn't a shock to me that it is a
          big diverse world. I'm just surprised anyone who recites the law
          of the land as much as you do doesn't recognize that the rule of
          law is predicated on freedom of expression and access to
          information so that the resulting laws apply to everyone.

          The members of the Chinese government that object to the
          information they insist be censored on Google, MSN and Yahoo!
          DO have access to the information; they simply refuse to let
          their people decide about it for themselves, so your argument of
          moral equivalence doesn't stand up.

          Also, the anti-trust "law of the land" in the EU is virtually
          identical and built on the same legal foundations as the United
          States, so it isn't reasonable to say that the immoral position of
          the Chinese government is comparable.

          Yes, there are cultural conflicts, but if we allow censorship on
          some of the Web, we allow it on all of the Web. You need to be
          see beyond your rationalization to the world where you are on
          the losing end of censorship. Bill Gates isn't being censored, so
          he can't say it's okay that he enables the censorship. It is a
          matter of the individual you don't know and are generalizing
          about being entitled to make the same choices as a Chinese
          bureaucrat, Bill Gates, you or me.
          Mitch Ratcliffe
          • Hey, do you remember...

            ... that one thing, what was it... that one thing that happened the last time anybody attempted to speak against China's methods....

            Oh yeah!

            Tiananmen Square!

            Man, Microsoft would sure LOVE that to happen to them, wouldn't they? I mean, YOU'RE NOT THE ONE TRYING TO PUT YOUR COMPANY IN CHINA, so you can't really say it's bad for him to stand up for Google and complying with China's laws for the benefit of business expansion.

            If you, for some inexplicable reason, would stand up to China, it is entirely probable that they simply wouldn't stand for your noncompliant corporation, and would throw it out. If you resisted... well, no one had to resist at Tiananmen Square, did they? Imagine what would've happened if they had.

            Finally, if you thing Microsoft and Google should dodge their laws anyways, I guess then, it's okay for all the religious organizations of the world to CONTINUE doing what they have been doing for a long time. Completely disregarding CHINA'S LAWS (not ours, mind you) and carrying their conversion agents.... I ... I mean... missionaries across the border, loaded with propaganda of their particular religion.

            Why not, eh?


          • Simply said, you are wrong.

            "...I'm just surprised anyone who recites the law of the land as much as you do doesn't recognize that the rule of law is predicated on freedom of expression and access to information so that the resulting laws apply to everyone..."

            No, not even close. This claim may be true in western culture, but it is not universal, not even close to it. Again, you are taking your view and trying to apply (judge) it to other people and cultures. Many have made that mistake in the past and it's always lead to disaster.

            And speaking of "web censorship" try posting some child porn on your web site and see what happens. Now I am not arguing that such censorship is good or bad, simply that based upon western views it is inappropriate and censored on the web.

            Do yourself a favor, step back and stop seeing everything from just your point of view. Having been to China I can tell you the majority of the people living there LIKE the way things are ran. They have no great burning desire to see their way of life turned upside down or even to see the communist government replaced.

            In truth many people in Asia look at Americans and see little more that self important, opinionated people trying to push their decadence on the rest of the world. That goes double for people in the a little place called Iraq. Perhaps you have heard of it?
          • Stop preaching

            If you would step back from your rationalization for a moment,
            you would see that the problem <i>is</i> an international one,
            for we are talking about the standards of openess and freedom
            of expression that will define the Net and, by extension, the
            world. It is not culturally insensitive to have a debate about the
            future of the Internet and take the position that more freedom is

            I am not trying to impose anything on the Chinese. I am
            criticizing American companies who promise one thing and
            deliver another based on government pressue. As their moral
            relativism becomes more pronounced, they may start
            rationalizing violations of our civil rights?wait, Microsoft and
            Yahoo already did by giving the DoJ search results.

            The China you cite as "happy" is also one having a lot of
            problems with growing dissent over freedom of expression,
            religion and thought; there are electronic samzidat networks all
            over that could burst into view if there was no censorship. As
            economic growth distributes wealth more unevenly, it has seen
            problems with workers demanding more money and safer work
            conditions, too. Don't make the more egregious mistake, when
            trying to paint me into a cultural corner, of assuming the
            Chinese you know are representative of all Chinese.

            And it would help if you acknowledge the Chinese government is
            no longer communist except in name, it is oligarchic and
            capitalistic. I'm not making a simplistic anti-communist

            You're characterization of Asian and Muslim feelings about
            Americans is correct, many do feel that way. Many also mimic
            American culture. There is a plurality of views, so when I say that
            everyone ought to have the freedom of thought and expression
            you and I do, I am reflecting the reality of the situation in those
            places. Iraq is a shame and a disaster of human rights, but don't
            try to inject it here.

            I am not the bigot you are attempting to portray. I do believe
            freedom of expression should be a universal human right, just
            like the United Nations has said it should, and I am concerned
            about the future of American civil rights. So, give the hyperbole
            a rest and try to talk with me about the implications of
            compromise with a regional government for an global network.
            Mitch Ratcliffe
          • I see a lot of problems in your post.

            1. "...American companies who promise one thing and deliver another based on government pressue..."

            Umm, when did they promice anything of the sort? When did any US corp. promice to bring "freedom" to anyone? Please post any such promice you have seen.

            2. "...The China you cite as "happy" is also one having a lot of problems with growing dissent over freedom of expression, religion and thought;"

            Ah, you mean like in the US where the zealots want to teach "creation" in science classes. Or maybe those that want the 10 commandments emblazened on court house walls when only a small percentage of American's are christian? Point being, anywhere you go you will find a percentage that are not happy with their lot in life.

            3. "...I do believe freedom of expression should be a universal human right,..."

            Yes, that is a very typical "western" view. I don't even disagree with it, but I do grasp the idea there are other ways to run a country and not everyone agrees with you and I. In fact there can be a very strong argument made that "ouR" way is wrong and is leading to decay in our own system. Consider the fact the US is barely 250 years old and China has managed to run itself for several thousand years with a "class" system.

            4. " with me about the implications of
            compromise with a regional government for an global network..."

            Finally we get to the meat of it. Compromise (as done by the search engines) is exactly what was needed and was given. In fact compromise is the ONLY thing that allows humans to live, without it we would be at war constantly.

            It would seem you want corps to do what all the western governments and armies have failed to do, bring "freedom" to areas of the world that reject it. Sorry, I don't beleive that is their task nor do I think they could do it if they wanted too.

            My suggestion to you is that if you really beleive what you are preaching then you go to China and demand they make the changes you insist upon...
          • Morality is all well and good...

            ...but it doesn't hold a candle to simply respecting the laws of another country. If you don't agree with what I do in my home, you're always welcome to leave it too. Just don't tell me what to do in my own home because that is then being disrespectful, regardless of how the public at large see my doings/wrongdoings.

            I do agree with you that the Chinese government is indeed morally wrong here and they have a serious issue in being humane towards its own citizens but you CANNOT impose your views on their own turf. Look at how it's panning out in Iraq if you want to see an example of what it's like to impose views on another country (in this case, with the Iraq govt in reality manufactured by the Bush administration, not voted in as the media would have you and I believe).

            It doesn't work ... whether it's right or wrong, you do not pee on someone else's territory. Do I agree with Google's actions? No. But would I feel the same way if that were my company? In the name of good business, no. If I want to see more cash roll in and I have to do something as simple as restrict search results (note, this is not invasive of anyone's privacy but rather a limit on the freedom of speech as imposed by the local govt), then dammit, I'll do it.

            Morality is nice for the soul but it doesn't pay the bills, mate.
      • PS, the difference is in your view, not in reality.

        • I'd also say....

          I'd also have to add that a general disdain for anyone rich contributes to this mindset. I really admire Mr. Gates. He just, despite his company's relentless competition with Google, stood up for them. And gave almost a billion dollars towards fighting one of the third world's most rampaging diseases.

          ...and all the ZDNet "I-hate-corporations" trolls are writhing at the thought. Mwheeheheh.

          • Anti-corporate?

            Pikl, I didn't condemn Mr. Gates for his wealth, I pointed out that
            he doesn't have to worry about anyone limiting his access to
            anything because of his weath. In the very same passage you
            cite I congratulated him for his $900 million gift, too.

            I start companies and own shares in many of them. I have
            nothing against corporations. They can do tremendous good,
            and bad. That we can talk about the difference is what is
            important to this debate.

            Try to stay accurate and understand that giving money away
            doesn't erase one's faults or insulate one from criticism. When
            we stop criticizing men like Bill Gates because of their charity,
            we allow them to make mistakes that, I think, they'd rather not
            make because there is an energetic debate that they learn from.
            Mitch Ratcliffe
          • Gates is still doing business dude

            Read the article carefully where you will find that he is offering the money for sorting out tuberculosis in exchange for a more relaxed attitude towards corporations. Seriously, George Bush Snr. didn't go to save Kuwait, he went to save the oil. George Bush Jnr. didn't go in to free the Iraqis from their psychotic Hussein, he went in to get the oil.

            Dude, nobody ever spills out so much cash just to get a warm fuzzy feeling inside of themselves. This is BUSINESS. Gates is definitely doing something better for humanity than Bush's supposed war against terror but he knows damn well that he's going to get something in return for it in the long run and that means more financial return. Don't kid yourselves guys. He spoke up for Google because he too has a business to run in China. The money he's putting in, he's merely investing given the deal he's carefully creating with the recipients of his $900M.

            Just think about it guys, in a business sense, not moral.
  • Ax.... to your points.

    1.) I didn't say companies promised freedom, I said they
    promised access to the world's information. In the specific
    situation we're talking about they don't deliver that, they deliver
    the Chinese-government sanctioned version of the truth in

    2.) No, I don't mean the zealot Christians. I mean employees
    attempting to organize and demand rights, among many other
    topics that are censored.

    3.) If you don't disagree with the idea that free expression is a
    human right, why are you condoning the opposite of free
    expression? Your historicist argument that China did just fine
    with its class system for thousands of years is ridiculous. The
    country has been torn by war and ruled with an iron fist, to the
    nearly perpetual misery of the majority of the people who have
    overthrown their government a few times in the last 100 years.
    That's your justification? Pretty weak.

    4.) You have a funny idea about compromise, though I
    understand the spirit of what you are saying. The meat of the
    issue is that the Net cannot be governed by the Chinese
    government, because it then becomes a balkanized world of
    barriers, which is counter to the technological underpinnings of
    the thing and the spirit of communication it has engendered.
    Maybe the compromise could cut the other way, that if the
    Chinese want search engines they build their own or let GYM in
    unfettered. Instead of blocking information, they could provide
    information to counter the things they don't like?it's basically
    how pro-U.S. messages dominate in the United States.

    The real issue is that the companies in question have decided to
    sacrifice principle for profit, which is what I am being critical of,
    rather than trying to foist my "Western" viewpoint on the
    Chinese. Bill Gates didn't succeed despite censorship and, yet,
    he and Sergey Brin are comfortable dictating the "appropriate"
    access of information for 1.3 billion people?

    Whether you like it or the Chinese like it or not, the most
    effective way to acheive progress is to allow the flow of ideas,
    even unattractive ones, and trust the people to make a good
    choice. If the Chinese decide not to click articles about
    Christianity, for example, more power to them.

    Finally, you challenge me to go to China and make the changes I
    insist upon.... I don't think that makes much sense, since I am
    asking Google, Yahoo! and MSN to live up to the principles of
    open expression that allowed them to thrive in the first place. If
    they can start in the United States, but dictate to people in other
    countries what they deem is appropriate access to information?
    based on the rules of those governments and the imperative to
    be profitable?then they are slowing destroying the environment
    that made their success possible.

    I don't need to go to China to make that point. I have, however,
    when visiting Asia, where there is no shortage of repressive
    government, never hesitated to state my opinion on the question
    of free expression, access to information and censorship when
    asked about it.
    Mitch Ratcliffe
    • It occurs to me

      that the ideas that allowed MS and others to be successful were in place before they existed. In China however, it seems to be reversed. It would seem any access is progress and enlightment a slow process. I don't know the best path to take but I make my choices based on my limited experience and intellectual environment and since I would not let anyone else make my choices, I would not presume to make theirs. One thing is for sure, there will be positives and negatives regardless of the path chosen and the consequences are rarely foreseen.
  • Some speech is better than none

    If there were no technology companies in China then there would be no speech leaving China. Atleast some information something gets out. Since people have always found a way to get around restrictive legislation and censorship, China will still continue to have problems with negative press and information until it resolves all its problems.
    • Which is why Google, MSN and Yahoo didn't need to play along

      There's this idea that if the U.S. search engines don't play along
      with the Chinese government that they can't do business in
      China, which is far-fetched on a network that is able to find
      routes to useful information. The "Great Firewall" is over-rated,
      because proxy servers and other systems punch through it every

      The censored results add nothing to the Chinese user's
      knowledge, so there is no differentiation for Google now. It's just
      another restricted search engine in China. Had it continued to
      operate a Chinese language search engine on the open Net, it
      would have overwhelmed the government restrictions and
      domestic players that do cooperate with the government.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
  • Mitch... I think you need to know something

    Mitch, your right about how the government officials in China don't have restrictions. From the blogs I've read in here, it appears that some of their officials are responding to your remarks right here in this column.

    Sounds like a bunch of far left wing idealogs to me. But Hey... at least THEY have the freedom to express themselves. Now if only the chinese people, had that right...
  • our toads and their tyranny

    Much of the ongoing discussion in these posts hinges on the current politically-correct idea of culture equality - that one has no busines "imposing" western ideas on those who (apparently) reject them. Sounds nice but does not hold water.

    Certain cultures (and by this I include political movements, religions old or new, and any other methods used to control thought and twist reality on a grand scale) are by definition evil. The true desires of the billions around the globe who must cope with tyrannical governments/institutions or dogmatic state-sponsored religions on a daily basis are simply not known with any precision to outsiders -- regardless of their frequent flyer miles and appetite for international junkets.

    Of course it is both impractical and foolish for western thought to be artifically imposed on those not seeking it out. Yet plenty of evidence exists that western thought IS respected and admired elsewhere. Witness the huge number of refugees who choose to vote with their feet and live (often illegally) in the USA, Europe, and a few other places where personal freedom (as western cultures define it) is at a maximum. (Notice I did not claim perfection or that every last soul on earth must find fulfilment as either a Republican or a Democrat.)

    The real problem occurs when the nastiest elements among the unfree gain the capability to attack those that are free, particularly when the unfree are dedicated terrorists who (to survive and continue their operations) must enjoy wide, cladestine support among the huge racial/religious/political groups they claim to represent.

    Who then is the enemy worthy of engagement? The handfull of terrorists and sucide bombers or their entire society/infrastructure, which by its tolerance has permitted them a base of operations and a safe haven from which they cannot be extracted? Do we wait until crude nuclear devices are trucked to and then detonated in major western cities or do we permanently remove this option (by force if necessary)?

    The greatest asset western culture has to give humanity is the free flow of ideas and expression (even the nonsense). The idea that corporate USA will voluntarily play ball with tyranny for a few more bucks flowing to its bottom line is inexcusable. Understandable, yes, given the present state of western corporate culture. But still inexcusable.

    Eons of magnanimous, tax-writeoff charity can never undo what a bit of well-placed greed, stupidity, and complicity can accomplish every day on the cheap.