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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Editorial - Microsoft and Russia -

Editorial - Microsoft and Russia -
Microsoft made the right decision to stop helping Russian authorities use claims of software piracy to harass and silence dissenters. On Monday, it announced that it is barring its lawyers from taking part in such cases and will provide a blanket software license to advocacy groups and news media outlets in Russia, undercutting the Kremlin’s tactic.
Still, Microsoft’s willingness to lend itself to politically motivated investigations — it changed course only after an article by Clifford Levy in The Times on Sunday — suggests a shocking failure of corporate responsibility. The Times said lawyers for Microsoft bolstered state police in politically tinged cases across Russia. They made statements suggesting the company was a victim and called for criminal charges. After police seized a dozen computers from a Siberian environmental group, the group said all its software was legally licensed and asked Microsoft to confirm this. Microsoft would not. The police used information from the computers to track down and interrogate some of the group’s supporters.
Before changing policy on Monday, Microsoft executives said the company was required under Russian law to take part in such inquiries.
Unfortunately, Microsoft is not the only American company that has failed to stand up for the rights of its customers in undemocratic countries.
In China, all search engines have helped the state control access to the Internet. In 2004, Yahoo helped Beijing’s state police uncover the Internet identities of two Chinese journalists, who were then sentenced to 10 years in prison for disseminating pro-democracy writings online. Skype’s Chinese partner, Tom Online, scanned text messages for politically sensitive words and stored them alongside user information on servers that could be accessed easily by the Chinese government.
The one company that has stood up to China is Google. In March, after five years of complicity with Beijing’s censors, it began redirecting searches to its unfiltered engine in Hong Kong. By contrast, Microsoft’s founder and chairman, Bill Gates, defended the company’s continued collaboration with China’s censors. “You’ve got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws of the countries you’re in, or not?” he said during Beijing’s fight with Google. “If not, you may not end up doing business there.”

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