Does Microsoft Have Censors in China?

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The New York Times has a superb article today about techniques used by the Chinese government censors the Internet. Perhaps most eye-opening was the fact that search engines and Web sites employ armies of censors, whose job it is to manually censor Web sites, chat rooms, blogs, and other Internet content. That makes one wonder: How many censors does Microsoft employ in China for Bing? Or has the company managed to avoid hiring them altogether?

The article describes a vast, complex infrastructure of censorship that reaches deep into every aspect of online use in China. It features centralized and decentralized censors, automatic censoring by machine, and censoring by humans. Censors are employed by entities as large as big Web sites, and as small as local governments. Here's what the Times says about it:

This is China's censorship machine, part George Orwell, part Rube Goldberg: an information sieve of staggering breadth and fineness, yet full of holes; run by banks of advanced computers, but also by thousands of Communist Party drudges; highly sophisticated in some ways, remarkably crude in others.

The one constant is its growing importance. Censorship used to be the sleepy province of the Communist Party's central propaganda department, whose main task was to tell editors what and what not to print or broadcast. In the new networked China, censorship is a major growth industry, overseen -- and fought over -- by no fewer than 14 government ministries.

An important piece of the infrastructure is the so-called Great Firewall. All communications between China and the outside world must go through one of three data centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the Times says, and this is where the censoring takes place that stops those inside China from getting information from the outside world.

China, though, doesn't just censor information from the outside world. It also censors information created inside China itself, and the Great Firewall can't help with that. That's where censors employed by the government and private industry comes in. The Times notes:

Within China, however, data cannot be choked off at a handful of gateways. So the government employs a toolbox of controls, including persuasion, co-opting and force, to keep the Web in line. Self-censorship is the first line of filtering and an obligation of all network and site operators in China.

How does that self-censorship work? Web sites employ censors on staff, as the Times explains:

Google, of course, recently pulled out of China, and so stopped employing censors. But it's hard to imagine that Microsoft can get by without employing censors for Bing. Which again makes one wonder: How many censors does it have on staff?

This story, "Does Microsoft Have Censors in China?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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