Roger L. Simon

Microsoft, Google and the Chinese Box

Anne Applebaum writes in the Washington Post Wednesday morning on a subject already touched upon by this blog:

Without question, China’s Internet filtering regime is “the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world,” in the words of a recent report by Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The system involves the censorship of Web logs, search engines, chat rooms and e-mail by “thousands of public and private personnel.” It also involves Microsoft Inc., as Chinese bloggers discovered last month. Since early June, Chinese bloggers who post messages containing a forbidden word — “Dalai Lama,” for example, or “democracy” — receive a warning: “This message contains a banned expression, please delete.” It seems Microsoft has altered the Chinese version of its blog tool, MSN Spaces, at the behest of Chinese government. Bill Gates, so eloquent on the subject of African poverty, is less worried about Chinese free speech.

At the same time, word comes of a turf war between Microsoft and Google with a Chinese twist:

Microsoft sued Google yesterday after the Internet search leader hired away a high-ranking executive whom the Redmond company described as a key player in developing its search technology and China strategy.

The lawsuit against Google and the departing executive, Kai-Fu Lee, underscores the fierce competition in the booming Internet search business. Microsoft alleges that Lee’s appointment to lead a new Google research-and-development center in China violates terms of his employment contract that keep him from working in a directly competitive position for a year after his departure.

Microsoft said in the suit that Lee is deeply familiar with its confidential business and technological strategies, not only in the search business but also in China. Microsoft accused Google of “intentionally assisting” Lee in the alleged violation of his contract.

I have no idea if these stories are related, but they have the wannabe LeCarré side of my brain spinning. On the face of it, this is about search engines, not blogs… but still words are being sought – like “democracy.” Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article linked above adds this tantalizing bit: But in an interview with The New York Times yesterday, Lee said he worked primarily on speech recognition technology at Microsoft. According to the paper, he declined to discuss the suit but said he had been seeking to return to China, where he lived as a child.

Hmmm…. (NYT report here.)