Greetings. It didn't take very long for Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer to make crystal clear the philosophical differences between his firm and Google.
In a fascinating speech to an outstanding bastion of upstanding business practices that I'm sure we all know and and love -- a Houston gathering of oil company executives -- Ballmer made it clear that if you're a repressive government with a terrible and rapidly decaying human rights record, Microsoft has a censorship deal for you!
On the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented a powerful speech supporting Internet freedom that by implication strongly backed Google's recently announced change in China policy and its refusal to continue censoring Google Search results in China, Ballmer was offering to censor Bing in any manner that Beijing requests. Just send him legal notice, and the offending results are Kaput -- Gone -- Vamonos!
Perhaps even more disturbing than Ballmer's "Come to Bing for Censorship!" promotion was his bizarre attempt to equate the rapidly declining human rights and civil rights environment in China with U.S. bans on pornography involving children, and the French ban on Nazi imagery. His presentation of these latter two examples as being morally equivalent to the kind of pervasive censorship, repression, and punishment that is increasingly taking place in China today is nothing short of ludicrous. It's more than a little frightening if he really doesn't see the differences that make China's censorship regime ever more nightmarish for those freedom-seeking citizens unwilling to toe the government's party line.
Ballmer has frequently demonstrated a number of rather clownish traits, but his offer of continuing practical support for China's pervasive information repression isn't funny -- it's boorish, shameful, and reprehensible. And those are just the "family-friendly" terms that come to mind.
For several years -- basically since soon after the start of the censored google.cn project -- Googlers at various levels within the company have expressed their discomfort to me regarding the arrangement, and their hope that the availability of Google Search even in censored form would perhaps help lead to an opening up of China with a blossoming of information, communications, and civil rights freedoms for its population.
It's now apparent that this didn't happen, and China took advantage of the situation to not only increase repression within its only country, but also to strike out at the rest of the world. Google's evolving new China policy is a logical and admirable response to this reality.
On the other hand, Steve Ballmer appears to be comfortably ensconced within a fantasy world -- where human rights matter not at all if they get in the way of business, and where attempting to expand Bing seems to take priority over all else.
Ballmer's attitude is a disgrace to Bing, Microsoft, and of course to himself as well.
Very sad, indeed.