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Appendix IX: Letter from Human Rights Watch to Microsoft and Microsoft’s response

From Human Rights Watch to Microsoft

July 5, 2006

Steve Ballmer, CEO
Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-6399

Fax: +1 425 936 7329

Re: China

Dear Mr. Ballmer,

I am writing to request your help with research that Human Rights Watch is conducting on the role of international companies in the Internet in China. This report will include a discussion of the role of Microsoft in China. It is our goal to present a thorough and objective report. To that end, we are soliciting information and views from your company.   

We would appreciate any comments you may have about Microsoft’s role in China. Specifically, we would appreciate responses to the following questions. This will greatly assist our understanding of Microsoft and the environment in which it works.

  1. Can Microsoft elaborate on its human rights policies and procedures? In what way have these been adapted to China?
  2. Does the company raise objections to censorship directly with Chinese or other government authorities?
  3. How does the company decide what words or terms to block and restrict from and Can the company contest such requests through the legal or judicial process in China?  If so, how does the company do this and has it ever challenged a request?
  4. What is the process that the company uses to determine whether to shut down blogs on MSN Spaces? Has the company received any requests from the Chinese government since January when Microsoft adopted its new censorship policy on MSN Spaces? If so, what where they and how has Microsoft responded?
  5. Specifically, has Microsoft or its Chinese affiliate received requests from any Chinese entities to take down the blogs of Wu Na, the sister of jailed filmmaker and and blogger Wu Hao ( or the blog of Zeng Jinyan, wife of AIDS activist Hu Jia, who wrote about his imprisonment (
  6. Please provide your full and current list of blocked words, phrases, and URL’s on
  7. Please provide your full and current list of words and phrases which users of MSN Spaces are blocked from posting in the title of their blog posts.
  8. Does Microsoft make public the Chinese and English-language words or terms that are prohibited on the MSN Spaces blogging platform? And likewise for If not, would you be willing to do so, including by placing them in a prominent position on your websites?
  9. We appreciate that Microsoft is not hosting Hotmail in China. Under what conditions, if any, would the company do so?
  10. Has Microsoft been asked by any entity of the Chinese government to hand over Hotmail or MSN Spaces user information? If so, what has been Microsoft’s response?
  11. Has the company been asked to sign on to the pledge for self-discipline?
  12. Does Microsoft support the idea of a corporate code of conduct in order to resist unreasonable censorship demands by the Chinese government?
  13. What is the company’s position on U.S. or other government anti-censorship regulation generally, and the Smith bill in particular?

Because we are under deadline, we would appreciate a response by July 14.  If we do not receive a reply by then, I am afraid we may be unable to include information you provide in the published report.

Thank you very much for your consideration of our request and I look forward to remaining in contact with you.


Brad Adams

Executive Director
Asia Division

Cc: Brad Smith, General Counsel
Ira Rubenstein, Associate General Counsel (via email to
Jack Krumholtz, Associate General Counsel
Fred Tipson, Senior Policy Counsel (via email to

Microsoft's Response

21 July 2006

Mr. Brad Adams

Executive Director
Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
2nd Floor, 2-12 Pentonville Road
London  N1 9HF  UK

Tel: +44 (0)20 7713 1995
Fax: +44 (0)20 7713 1800

Dear Brad: 

Thank you very much for your letter of 5 July concerning Microsoft in China.  We very much appreciate the opportunity to help Human Rights Watch better understand Microsoft and the environment in which it works. 

In particular, we welcome your interest in documenting, in an objective way, the role of international companies in China.  We hope that this report will help generate specific ideas and proposals for how Internet companies should conduct business in countries where local laws may require some restrictions on the use of our services.

We agree with Human Rights Watch that Internet freedom is an issue of global concern, and it demands a candid, factual, and thoughtful debate amongst concerned stakeholders.  At Microsoft, we care deeply about this issue and have given it considerable thought.  We continually review the overall value of our services in any particular country and the conditions created by local government policies and practice.

We’ve set out below some response to your questions, grouped by subject matter.  As I am sure you appreciate, these are sensitive topics.  We are not in a position to offer specific written responses to every question.  But we would welcome an opportunity to continue discussing these topics in person at a convenient time.

As a global corporation, our internet policies apply company-wide in every market where we do business.  So, for example, our policy with respect to government requests to remove blog content pertains to MSN Spaces generally, not simply Spaces in China.164

Additionally, fair employment practices165 are part of our company-wide commitment to responsible business practices and human rights, and we extend this commitment to our supply chain through a Vendor Code of Conduct.166

We also consider issues of privacy and security on a global basis.  While we comply with the law in each country where we do business, it is worth noting that we do not believe compliance with local law is a matter of deferring reflexively to local authorities or endorsing any specific policy or ideology. Where the safety and security of individuals is at stake, we believe it is incumbent on both governments and private companies to assure that requests for customer information in particular are subject to the highest available standards of legal process.

When that information is not maintained in the country concerned, such requests necessarily invoke international agreements that require established government-to-government procedures. When personal customer data is maintained in the United States, private operators clearly must comply with applicable U.S. laws protecting on-line privacy, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Worldwide, Microsoft seeks to provide appropriate notice and transparency to our customers about the standards that will be applied to their communications and the risks they may run if those standards are violated.

Microsoft in China

Microsoft is not a signatory to the “Public Pledge of Self Regulation” for the Chinese Internet industry, which is a voluntary pledge.  We do, of course comply with local law in China – as we do in every jurisdiction in which we do business.

Our MSN search engine in China (currently in beta), does not block searches for particular key words, including “democracy,” “freedom,” “human rights,” and the like.  Users of our beta MSN Search engine do receive search results when these keywords are entered, although users who click on these results may find that certain pages are inaccessible due to ISP or gateway-level blocking.  MSN Search has no role in such gateway-level blocking.  

We remove a small number of URLs from the result pages in the MSN China Search site to omit inappropriate content as determined by local practice, law or regulation.  We provide a link to a notice if search results have been filtered or may contain non-functional links but we do not block whole queries.

Users of MSN Spaces in China are not prohibited from using the words “democracy,” “freedom,” or “human rights” in blog titles or blog content.  Indeed, MSN Spaces does not filter blog content in any way.

Blog titles – a static identifier for a given Space, as distinguished from the evolving content that Spaces users post to their blogs – are subject to some restrictions.  In compliance with Chinese Internet regulations, Spaces users may not use certain terms in their account name, space name, or space sub-title – or in photo captions. 

We do employ a “restricted term” list for this purpose and we make every effort to keep the list to a minimum number of terms.  The terms “democracy,” “freedom” and “human rights” are not among the terms on the current list.

We do not make public make public the Chinese and English-language words or terms that are prohibited or restricted in MSN Spaces, or the list of URLs that we have removed from  One reason for not doing so is that this could result in some fully compliant providers nonetheless being asked to alter their practices in a way that does not advance free expression.

We believe that despite the circumstances, we should continue to offer Spaces, Search, Hotmail, and other services in China.  As a number of commentators have observed, the Internet has already transformed the economic, cultural and political landscape of China.  For example, as Freedom House noted:

“While the state has expended considerable effort to limit Chinese access to web pages deemed politically subversive, many users find ways to access blocked Internet sites by using proxies or anti-blocking software. The Internet has increased the speed and convenience of accessing information and decreased the financial costs of interpersonal communication…”167

Just in the past few years, there have been repeated examples in China of the ways in which official responses to domestic events have been affected by the availability of information and opinions communicated over the Internet.  Most prominent have been reports and commentary about the handling of health issues, such as SARS, Avian flu, HIV/AIDS and water contamination.  These examples demonstrate why, based on grounds of human rights and freedom of expression alone, we feel we should continue providing services in China.

For additional materials describing our views on this matter, please see our written testimony to the House International Relations Committee’s Joint Hearing, posted at:

Corporate Conduct Principles

We support development of principles that would guide corporate conduct in this area, that would be developed by a broad range of stakeholders, including companies, advocacy groups, and government, and which could apply on a global basis.

Our perspective is that we will be served best not only as a company but as an industry and a worldwide community if we can be guided by principles that address human rights and free expression not only in the case of blogging, search, email and other technologies and services that exist today, but also the variety of technologies that almost certainly will be offered in the years and the decades ahead.

These are principles that no company can formulate by itself. These are principles that no country should formulate by itself. They are principles that need to emerge from a broad dialogue, and we have already started to roll up our sleeves and engage in precisely those kinds of conversations. We've already started to talk with some, including commercial service providers, academics, advocacy groups and others.. We are interested in talking with still others, and in working in a collaborative way with all of the stakeholders that have an important interest in this issue.

In addition to industry, non-governmental organizations, and individual citizens, there is an important role in this debate for governments, and we have encouraged the United States government to initiate discussions with other governments—both bilateral and multilateral--to address restrictions on Internet content. 

We believe that contributing to the development of industry guidelines – and addressing the issues on a bi-lateral and multi-lateral manner – is likely to be a better use of government resources than legislation.  Legislation could have the unfortunate consequence of polarizing the debate and/or reducing the ability of industry to act collectively in responding to human rights and free expression concerns.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide you with this information and thank you again for taking the time to develop this report, and for your work on behalf of human rights worldwide.


Pamela S. Passman

Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs
Microsoft Corporation




[167] Ashley Esarey, “Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control in Contemporary China,” A Freedom House Special Report, February 2006, at page 11.

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