Michael Robertson (the guy from MP3.com, Linspire, and now SIPPhone) writes up “Michael’s Minute” a few times a month, which is sort of a letter to customers that’s often informative, but usually relates to MS-vs-Linux type issues.
This week, though, he wrote a thinker of a piece on how far U.S. companies should bend to get their products and services into China. With all the other news going on, it was a fairly minor bullet a couple weeks ago that Yahoo turned over an email to the Chinese government that got a Chinese journalist arrested.
It’s one thing to engage in self-censorship, preventing someone from discussing “freedom” and “human rights” or blocking news sources. In those instances nobody goes to prison. Nobody is tortured. Nobody is physically harmed. It’s an entirely different level to actively participate in turning over information which leads to jailing of citizens for the most basic freedom of press issues. It makes me wonder where the moral lines are when chasing a dollar. Would those companies turn over information that leads to executions for those that violate freedom of speech?
Western businesses are salivating at the thought of another billion customers in China, but how far should they go to get them? As an American, I would have a pretty tough time telling my Chinese programmers to red-flag every email with the word ‘freedom’ in it, regardless of what my stockholders thought.