The New York Times has an editorial today on the issue that companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft help the Chinese government not only filter out search results that they want to censor, but also help track down the individuals engaging in criticism and dissent. The Times calls for an industry-wide code of conduct pledging not to censor content or track Internet users:
Reporters Without Borders, a group advocating press freedom, recommends that Internet companies also adopt a good conduct code, pledging not to filter out words like “democracy” and “human rights” from search engines and maintaining their e-mail and Internet servers outside China.
Western businesses have always overestimated the price of defending human rights in China. Some have done it effectively – privately and respectfully – and paid no cost. But the beauty of such an industrywide code of conduct for Internet companies is that it would put no company at a disadvantage.
Western technology companies could have a powerful case if they acted as a group in telling China that they are under tremendous consumer and political pressure to stick up for free expression.