Microsoft’s wet dreams of global media domination take a step closer to coming true:
Microsoft hopes its Internet protocol television system (IPTV) will also be used in India, China and other developing countries, where it could provide education and government services
Hm. Call me a killjoy but I find it hard to get excited about two-way communications protocols that enable Chinese government “services,” even when these services are provided by our much-heralded
collaborators bastions of free-market ideals, the multinational technology corporations.
And I’m certain I’m not the only one.
Meet Shi Tao. He’s currently in prison in China for at least 10 years for ‘divulging state secrets’ on a supposedly anonymous Yahoo forum. China asked to remove the veil, and Yahoo delivered, no questions asked.
Pardon me if I’m not falling over myself to fawn at the idea of Microsoft making A LOT OF MONEY, but I think there are some questions that need to be answered first.
What responsibilities, if any, does business have in the spread and maintenance of human rights? How should they be held to those responsibilities? The traditional model of leading corporations to civil behavior with the carrot and stick of economic incentives (and disincentives) has left us in a constant cycle of boundaries-testing, with corporate interests expanding until they receive a slap on the wrist, then withdrawing begrudgingly. When they are caught red-handed they can only pass the buck, complaining that they are only doing what is required of them, that they are just as much the victim as the ones being tortured in prison as a result of their actions.
This is, to put it mildly, bullshit. As Xeni points out, Yahoo’s argument that corporations are bound by the laws of the localities in which they operate is disingenous at best, premeditated complicity at worst. Yahoo had every opportunity to deny the information that would save this man’s life. But they chose not to, because to take a stand would mean they either had to destroy the user profiling data that they resell to advertisers, or they would have to close up shop in China and potentially miss out on the opportunity to sell those two billion eyeballs. Why is that is the unthinkable option?
Certainly it is naive to put faith in the notion of business taking a lead in the global human rights project. Indeed many view the story of the past thousand years as a struggle against corporations (in their many forms) for individual freedoms. If there’s one lesson to be learned from this story, it is that there will be no new corporate model. The guilty party here was once one of the revolutionary new guard: self-professed democratizers of information access, promising a ‘global village’ where thought flowed freely and content knew no border or nationality. In the end, though, they are bound to their profit-hungry DNA, the implicit fine print in every business plan since the dawn of time.
This problem will not disappear of its own volition. A new approach must be found.