American Tech Companies In China: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

By TechSecurityChina.com Editor
August 06, 2008

Just days before the start of the Beijing Olympics, United States Senator Dick Durbin has apparently decided he never wants to get a visa to visit the Chinese people as he just pressured Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft into reaching an agreement on a voluntary code of conduct that would govern how they operate in China and other countries.

“I commend Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other participants for agreeing on the principles of an Internet freedom code of conduct,” Durbin stated.

Durbin probably doesn’t read technology news, as these companies don’t have much presence in China and therefore his energies could have been put to better use. Google is a distant second to Chinese powerhouse search engine Baidu.com; Yahoo is a little-used Web portal in China when compared to Chinese domestic giants like Sohu.com, Sina.com, and Netease; and by different estimates, up to 85% of all Microsoft products used in China are pirated, and China accounts for less than 8% of Microsoft’s annual turnover. If they left China, these American technology companies would have fewer market entry headaches, but the potential of China’s future has them in rapture.

On July 21, 2008, Senator Durbin, the chairman of the Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee, and Senator Tom Coburn, the ranking member of the Subcommittee, wrote to the CEOs of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, urging them to finalize and implement the code of conduct as soon as possible. Durbin and Coburn say they have received responses from the three companies stating that they had reached an agreement in principle on the code of conduct.

However while pouring efforts into worrying about what American Internet companies are doing within the sovereignty of other countries like China, little seems to be done about how American Internet companies are trampling the civil liberties of Americans in their own country. While Durbin argues that the Chinese government is infringing on netizens’ rights, the Unites States Senate has been operating in a two-faced manner: last month the U.S. Senate authorized a bill that would immunize telecommunications companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth from lawsuits for secretly collecting the phone call records of millions of Americans on behalf of the U.S. National Security Agency. The further Durbin tries to pull American firms from China, the closer he and his colleagues get to the Middle Kingdom.

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