Software design for totalitarian regimes

A story in the L.A. Times notes the helpful role that a Microsoft program plays for the Chinese government. The Bill Gates people have agree to flag certain forbidden terms, discouraging Chinese people from using them. I suppose this qualifies as the next "moster app" (or is that "monstosity app"?).

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As China Censors the Internet, Money Talks
By Mark Magnier and Joseph Menn, Times Staff Writers

BEIJING — Chinese bloggers using a new Microsoft service to post messages titled "democracy," "capitalism," "liberty" or "human rights" are greeted with a bright yellow warning.

"This message includes forbidden language," it scolds. "Please delete the prohibited expression."

The restrictions were agreed upon by Microsoft and its Chinese partner, the government-linked Shanghai Alliance Investment. The limits have sparked a debate here and in the online world about how free speech could be threatened when the world's most powerful software company forges an alliance with the largest Communist country.

Multinational companies from cigarette makers to baby formula companies routinely change their advertising and other corporate behavior to adapt to local laws. Experts say that Internet companies such as Microsoft are often the focus of controversy because their products are linked to free speech issues, and many rules governing blogs — or Web logs — and other electronic speech are evolving.

"There's a spectrum here," said Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and an author of a recent study on internet censorship in China. "It's one thing to provide a regime with steel, another to provide bullets, and another to serve as the executioner."

Executives with the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant argue that they are only following local laws and any disadvantage is outweighed by benefits users get from the company's services.

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[LW: Of course, the same might have been said about the use of IBM equipment by the Nazi regime to facilitate the holocaust -- "any disadvantage is outweighed by benefits users get from the company's services."]