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Congressman Quizzes Net Companies on Shame 459

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the ethical-dilemmas dept.
mjdroner writes "Cnet has a transcript of the House of Representatives hearing on net censorship with Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Yahoo reps. At one point, Rep. Tom Lantos asks if Microsoft is ashamed of their actions in China. Microsoft: 'We comply with legally binding orders whether it's here in the U.S. or China.' Lantos: 'Well, IBM complied with legal orders when they cooperated with Nazi Germany. Those were legal orders under the Nazi German system.'"
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Congressman Quizzes Net Companies on Shame

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  • by ptbarnett (159784) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:06AM (#14741296)
    Google: We don't offer a service that puts anyone in that situation, and the best way we honor their situation is to ensure that we are not associated with a similar situation. We don't offer products that would put us in a position of putting people like that in danger.

    Does Google maintain the same history of keyword searches by IP and by "cookie" at google.cn? If so, what are they going to do when the Chinese government demands they provide that information?

    It's not hard to imagine a situation where that information would put a Chinese Google user in danger.

  • Heard it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BenjyD (316700) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:12AM (#14741321)
    I listened to some of this on the Today programme (Radio 4) in the UK and the Microsoft guy sounded *really* nervous when they bought up the IBM/Germany analogy. It sounded like the similarity really hadn't occurred to him before. Really cheered me up on a cold morning.
  • Re:Anne Frank (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meringuoid (568297) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:15AM (#14741329)
    They were asked if they would have done the same if the Nazi's asked them the location of Anne frank.

    Of course they would have, if there was a profit in it. What Anne Frank was doing was illegal (Reich Criminal Code section 1775B: Breathing while Jewish), and if Yahoo wanted to do business in Germany at the time then they would certainly have had to comply with the demands of the lawfully appointed Gestapo. Not to do so would require them to forego the potential revenues to be had in Germany, which would clearly mean a failure to maximise shareholder value.

    They're corporations. They're pure Lawful Evil by definition.

  • by Shag (3737) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:26AM (#14741394) Homepage
    The challenge of trying to have both power/profit and ethics is hardly a new one - it's been around probably as long as there have been people.

    In the United States, where so many people are very committed to capitalism, it may rear its head more than in some other types of social or economic systems, but I see it everywhere I go.

    "What pays best" and "What is best" simply aren't always the same thing, after all.

    Personally, I've made choices on both sides of the divide, when there's been one. I got tired of picking things that paid well but made me feel dirty, after a while... but that's probably why I'm neither corporate nor congressional!
  • Re:Anne Frank (Score:2, Interesting)

    by enjahova (812395) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:27AM (#14741404) Homepage
    The Nazi Regime and the "Red Dynasty" are totally different. Do you know how many changes have happened in China in the last 100 years? Do you know how many civil wars cost millions of lives? The Cultural revolution and the resulting death toll is NOT part of the same government that rules today. Have you heard of the capitalism going on in many parts of the country? How could that possibly be the same as the extreme communist rule of Chairman Mao? This oversimplifying of history gets in the way of pragmatic thinking. You want to throw around numbers of how many died, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't know the context.

    The very fact that you call it the Red Dynasty shows an aversion to fact. I suggest you and the mods that modded you informative read wikipedia and find out WHY China has the government it has now, and why they see stability as more important than democracy. (Not that I see it that way, just why many Chinese people do)
  • Re:Interesting (Score:1, Interesting)

    by kid_oliva (899189) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:47AM (#14741520) Homepage
    Wow. How to reply to such anger. Bringing up Vietnam was a bad idea since it is known China was behind the uprising in both Vietnam and Korea. Lets not talk about what has been going on in Tibet either. I better not talk about Inner Mongolia too. Definitely should leave out what has happened to various people of different religions.

    America is not perfect and most citizens know that. As for racism, that's a human condition. Should we talk about Japanese-Chinese relations. The movie Memoirs of a Geisha brought out alot of racist attitudes in China, demeaning Zhang Ziyi and calling Ken Watanabe and Japanese dog.

    People's nationalism usually blinds them to the evils happening in their own country, American, Chinese, and everywhere alike.
  • Re:Anne Frank (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meringuoid (568297) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:51AM (#14741544)
    Not evil. Amoral.

    Really? I quote:

    "A lawful evil character methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He's comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He is loath to break promises, and is therefore very cautious about giving his word unless a bargain is clearly in his favour."

    Sounds pretty much like a typical corporation to me.

    It continues:

    "Many lawful evil characters use society and its laws for selfish advantages, exploiting the letter of the law over its spirit whenever it best suits their interests."

    Now, tell me that's not Microsoft all over.

    (quotations from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], although presumably originating in D&D sourcebooks - I recognise the text from NWN :-)

  • Re:Double Standard (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:56AM (#14741581)

    It would appear that you're trying to let google off the hook, just because another organization (the government) has also dealt with the criminal regime. Sorry, morality doesn't work that way. Having company doesn't excuse a crime.

    No, but it sure means that Congress doesn't have any business conducting this.

  • Re:Anne Frank (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jacksdl (552055) on Friday February 17, 2006 @09:58AM (#14741593)
    I had a slight lull in my righteous outrage when I heard some of the Yahoo guy's testimony on NPR. He pointed out that by taking the moral high ground he would really be taking no risk himself -- he would be telling a Yahoo employee who is a Chinese citizen to defy his/her government. A contrast to when Pres Bush v1.0 encouraged the Kurds to fight Hussein during the 1st Gulf War -- then did nothing when Kurds who followed his advice were slaughtered.

    My company is trying to succeed in China. I wonder what ethical compromises we may have to consider...
  • Gee, I wonder (Score:1, Interesting)

    by phongleland (875504) on Friday February 17, 2006 @10:18AM (#14741724)
    why doesn't Congress haul oil executives to the Capital Hill to question them about doing business in oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia.
  • by jocknerd (29758) on Friday February 17, 2006 @10:18AM (#14741726)
    China's no threat. We've got thousands of businesses already over there. Why are they picking on technology companies? If Congress is so concerned about China and democracy, why do we allow trade with China, but not Cuba?

    Typical Washington hypocrites.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PinkyDead (862370) on Friday February 17, 2006 @10:19AM (#14741740) Journal
    I was hoping somebody else would kick this obvious irony straight in there and the tone of the replies was to be expected.

    After the recent UN Human Rights condemnation of the Guantanamo prison camp, I was a bit shocked by the allusion to the 10 year prisoner when there are prisoners in Guantanamo for nearly 5 years without trial.

    The problem that I have with this is in China the 10-year prisoner is incarcertated legally according to Chinese law (even if you don't agree with thoses laws), the terrorist suspects in Guantanamo are not there legally according to American law.

    Fine, if they are terrorists, try them and lock them up or execute them, if that's what you want to do - but it is pure hypocrisy to complain about China acting under its own laws while having a blatant disregard for your own laws and the right to just and fair treatment under them.

    It's do as I say, not as I do.

    I can see where Tom Lantos is coming from with his background, and I like a good Microsoft roasting as much as the next man, but as a representive of the government of the United States, I wonder is he ashamed?
  • Re:Shit (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2006 @10:46AM (#14741973)
    I should point out that if consumers cared more about Chinese activists, selling them out would have severe market repercussions for Microsoft and in that case the good thing wopuld also be the profitable thing.

    It's not like you've got to mortgage your house to get a Linux install CD, after all...

    Within that context, there's a role for US activists to educate people on why they *should* care about Chinese activists -- perhaps not the least such reason being that a company who will assist in oppressing the Chinese will also assist in oppressing the US.
  • Re:Anne Frank (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ubergrendle (531719) on Friday February 17, 2006 @10:49AM (#14741992) Journal
    Its important to note that many major religions consider evil merely to be the absence of good. This is why for some, ammorality = evil, whereas for others ammorality = neutral.

    Using the AD&D Players' Handbook to define a personal code of mortality is kind of like using a Dvorak magazine article to define an global enterprise IT architecture...
  • by Latent Heat (558884) on Friday February 17, 2006 @11:00AM (#14742057)
    Agreed. In response to the challenge "would you have cooperated with Nazi Germany" I would have been attempted to respond "no, not when we were at war, but remember we are not at war with China, although we ended up at war with Nazi Germany as a consequence of an economic embargo we imposed on Japan in response to human rights violations in China."

    On the other hand, Lantos has standing to invoke Nazi Germany on account of his personal and family history.

  • by iocat (572367) on Friday February 17, 2006 @11:20AM (#14742212) Homepage Journal
    We ended up at war as a consequence of an economc embargo of Japan? Excellent. Nice apology for Japanese agression!

    Our embargo against Japan may have irritated them, and provided some political cover (to them) for their actions, but they certainly didn't think we were going to end the embargo after Pearl Harbor, did they? Therefore, it's an impossible excuse. Japan's military dictatorship was simply trying to eliminate our influence in the Pacific. It was an pure act of unbridled agression, and there are no mitigating circumstances for it.

  • Re:Anne Frank (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) on Friday February 17, 2006 @11:46AM (#14742425)
    "Terrorism!" "Security reasons!" "Other buzzword that makes it sound like you aren't a true red-blooded American if you don't comply!"

    "Terrorism!" is the modern buzzword, but....

    "Pinkoes!" - 1950s

    "A Jap's a Jap!" - 1940s

    "Over there!" - 1920s

    "Rebels!" - 1860s

    "Laissez-faire!" - mid-1800s

    "Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!" - 1790s

    "For the Holy Land!" - 1200s

    "Chivalry!" - 1000s

    "Carthago delenda est!" - 100s BC

    "The Mandate of Heaven!" - 900s BC

    It isn't just the current administration of the United States. We've been abusing buzzwords to justify often-questionable actions, almost since the dawn of mankind.
  • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Friday February 17, 2006 @11:47AM (#14742437)
    No. They believed that destroying American forces at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere would enable them to annex the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), whose oil resources would allow the Japanese to ignore the American boycott. They were able to get that oil out of the ground, but American subs sank many of the ships transporting it to Japan.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.