In the shadow of upcoming Congressional hearings on Internet companies' participation in Chinese suppression of free speech, Microsoft announced new policies on when they will shut down blogs and delete archives.
Microsoft's new MSN Spaces policy states that the company will remove content only when it "receives a legally binding notice from the government indicating that the material violates local laws" or when the content violates MSN contract terms. When it does take down content, it will only be done in the country issuing the order, and the company said it will also "ensure that users know why that content was blocked."
"We really felt a need to step back and make sure that we are being thoughtful," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a telephone interview from Lisbon, Portugal, where the new policy was announced at a forum for government leaders. (News.com)
It's a hot issue with Google coming under heavy fire for recently launching a censored version of the site. A Congressional hearing on the topic is being boycotted by Google, Microsoft and Cisco.
Free speech advocates were cautiously supportive of the new plan, AP reports.
John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, lauded Microsoft's moves as an important first step.
But he expected Microsoft to face considerable government pressure if it does start disclosing government censorship and makes good on its pledge to show censored data outside the country in question.
"Where we'll see whether the policy is meaningful or not is the first time the state comes to Microsoft ... and says, "So you're publishing to the world the subversive political statements of somebody online. Who is it?'" he said. "Does Microsoft fold or stand pat?"