MSN Blocks 'Forbidden Speech' in Blogs

Following the lead of competitors Yahoo and Google, Microsoft has blocked the use of words such as "democracy" and "human rights" in some of its services for Chinese users - including its Spaces blogs. The move is likely to appease the Chinese government, which has strongly urged Web sites to self-censor themselves.

The censorship was most readily apparent on the Chinese version of the MSN Spaces Web log service. Users who attempted to use these words, as well as "Taiwan independence" or "freedom" among others were greeted with a message stating: "This item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please enter a different word for this item."

In March, the Chinese government mandated that all Web sites based in China must be registered with the government in order to stay online. Those not registered by the end of this month will be shut down.

Microsoft's Chinese portal is a joint-venture with the state funded Shanghai Alliance Investment Limited, or SAIL, which may explain why the company was so quick to censor itself.

Officials at MSN's Beijing offices were refusing to comment to the press on Monday. An MSN spokesperson told BetaNews only that, "MSN abides by the laws and regulations of each country in which it operates."

Yahoo and Google have already been criticized for not taking a stand against China's policies and censoring their sites in a similar fashion. Reporters Without Borders, a French human rights organization, said it "deplores the irresponsible policies of United States Internet firms Yahoo! and Google in bowing directly and indirectly to Chinese government demands for censorship."

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