The LA Times has a very good article on Microsoft's censorship of blogs in China, the background and the controversy (As China Censors the Internet, Money Talks). For more about this issue, I highly recommend Rebecca MacKinnon's My Response to Scoble.
But there was something that struck me about Microsoft's response to issues of censorship in China, according to the LA Times:
Microsoft adds that filtering objectionable words is nothing new. In the United States, the company blocks use of several words in titles, including "whore" and "pornography."
That's just great. What a fantastic way to show your support for freedom of expression, Microsoft. When people accuse you of censorship in China, justify your actions by proclaiming your support for censorship in the United States. I'm sure the Chinese government is very appreciative that you're implying a moral equivalence between China and the United States on questions of free speech.
Now this isn't recent news, BoingBoing pointed this out in December 2004 (MSN Spaces: Seven Dirty Blogs). But really, when you're defending your censorship policy in China, do you really want to brag about how you censor in the US, home of the First Amendment? Is this helpful? On any level?
And, you know, the policy is still asinine, as Xeni demonstrated so ably. Another, more recent example: if you wanted to discuss ICANN's new top level domain, .XXX, you wouldn't be able to put the .XXX in the title - which might result in some weird contortions of lanugage. And I guess some of the titles of my past posts would be too risque for Microsoft: PIRATE Act Reveals Sen. Hatch as Strange Ally of Pornography Industry; Little-Known Anti-Pornography Statute Threatens Free Speech; and The INDUCE Act (IICA) - Putting the Pornography Industry in Charge. Thank goodness I don't use MSN Spaces.
Microsoft probably doesn't have much of a choice with regard to censorship in China, but that doesn't mean they can't demonstrate a commitment to free speech. They could start by getting rid of their censorship policy here in the US. At the very least, they could stop bragging about it.