Reporters Without Borders said it was disgusted to find that Microsoft was censoring the Chinese version of its blog tool, MSN spaces, the system automatically rejecting words including "democracy" and "Dalai Lama".
"Following Yahoo!, here is a second American Internet giant giving way to the Chinese authorities and agreeing to self-censorship", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.
"Does that mean that if the authorities asked Microsoft to provide information about Chinese cyberdissidents using its services that it would agree to do so, on the basis that it is "legal"? Reporters Without Borders wondered.
"We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating."
Reporters Without Borders has been able to check that, as reported by several news agencies, when a Chinese blogger attempts to post a message containing terms such as "democracy", "Dalai Lama", "Falungong", "4 June" (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), "China + corruption", or "human rights", a warning displays saying, "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression."
Generally "subversive" messages are displayed on Chinese-hosted forums and blogs but the banned words are automatically replaced with blank spaces.
The Chinese version of the MSN portal, along with the blog tool, were launched as a joint venture with a local state-controlled company, Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd (SAIL).
The Chinese authorities are trying to impose self-censorship on all search engines and blog tools that that wish to operate on its territory. Yahoo!, which was the first, agreed to remove all "subversive" news and information from its search results. Despite repeated requests from Reporters Without Borders, the company’s management always declined to discuss the issue.
Google, which has so far refused to censor its search engine, now looks likely to follow in the footsteps of its competitor. When the company announced it was opening an office in China, Reporters Without Borders wrote to its two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, asking them to respond clearly to the question: "Would you agree to censorship of your search engine if Beijing asked you to". Google never replied.
Reporters Without Borders also wrote, on December 2003, to the CEO and founder of Microsoft, Steven A.Ballmer and Bill Gates, to bring to their attention their freedom of expression responsibilities, particularly in a country like China. This appeal, like the others, went unanswered.