The Web has created a forum for content that transcends national boundaries, making the dissemination of politically and socially sensitive information far easier. In response to this phenomenon, however, many conservative regimes around the world have placed strict restrictions on the nature of the content available to their citizens. As a result, numerous companies are challenged with the morally sensitive issue of deciding what rules they are willing to abide by in order to do business internationally. It can be a tough call, with some companies choosing to censor their own content. There are also companies that although not engaged in self-censorship, are being forcibly censored. Here's a look at some of the major players recently silenced by global Internet censorship.

YouTube, Google's $1.65 billion acquisition, has racked up a host of transnational opponents through the controversial content that it often houses. Some of the regions that the user generated content site is reported to have temporarily been blocked in include:

  • Thailand: For showing a 'crudely insulting' video of Thailand's monarch.
  • Turkey: For showing a clip that allegedly insults Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
  • Brazil: For showing a steamy video of a prominent model and MTV host caught with her lover on a beach.
  • Morocco: For showing footage that is critical of Morocco's actions in West Sahara.

Google has voluntarily censored its content in China, setting up a version of its Website specifically for the country and preventing access to Google.com. Under criticism, the search giant has defended its actions, stating that it would be far more damaging to avoid the Chinese market altogether than to simply restrict the content it makes available in the country. In other parts of the world, localized Google sites like Google.de (Google's German site) abide by the laws of the particular regions they are operating in, which often involves blocking certain content, however it is only in China that Google.com is blocked.

According to viewer accounts, the Chinese government has temporarily blocked BBC World several times, when politically or socially sensitive events were broadcast. Viewers report that the BBC's footage of President Hu Jintao being heckled during a speech at the White House last year was unavailable in China, due to what the authorities have termed a 'signal blackout.' The BBC News Website, which regularly reports on politically sensitive issues, human rights violations and other atrocities, is also blocked in China.

Skype, Ebay's online communications service, revealed last year that its joint venture partner, Tom Online, has been filtering text messages sent through the service in China. The company censors words like Dalai Lama and Falun Gong (a movement that human rights advocates say is banned in China for political reasons.) In a Financial Times interview, Skype's CEO Niklas Zennström argued that the company's actions in China are no different to its policy of following laws in any other region. "I may like or not like the laws and regulations to operate businesses in the UK or Germany or the US, but if I do business there I choose to comply with those laws and regulations. I can try to lobby to change them, but I need to comply with them. China in that way is not different," stated a defensive Zennström.

Microsoft's MSN portal in China voluntarily blocks the Chinese equivalent for certain words like democracy, demonstration, and freedom from the titles of the blogs it plays host to. Those attempting to incorporate these words are greeted with the following message: "The title must not contain prohibited language, such as profanity. Please type a different title." Also being restricted are blog entries that mention human rights and Taiwan Independence. Microsoft has taken a similar line of defense to its corporate peers, arguing that China is transitioning to becoming the biggest Internet user in the world and its particular laws and norms must be respected.

In 2002, Yahoo! signed the Internet Society of China's Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry, creating an uproar amongst human rights activists around the world. Called a "political informant" by Reporters Without Borders, the company was accused of sacrificing fundamental human rights in order to gain ground in the Chinese market. In 2005, Yahoo! once again came under fire when it was revealed that its China site supplied data that helped local authorities collect evidence to jail Chinese journalist, Shi Tao. The journalist has been put away for ten years on the grounds that he divulged state secrets by sending the text of an internal Communist Party message to internationally based Websites.

Cisco Systems doesn't censor content itself, but the San Jose-based company has been accused of providing governments with the tools to make Internet censorship possible. Cisco sells routers that allow not only the main addresses for Websites to be blocked, but also enable the blocking of specific sub-pages while leaving the rest of the site intact. The company has defended itself, stating that it has not customized any of its equipment for the Chinese government, and sells exactly the same routers in China as it does elsewhere in the world.

Google's free blog hosting service has been sporadically blocked in China, Pakistan, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia. Of late, controversial bloggers have been attracting the attention of their conservative governments around the world. Earlier this year Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman was given a four-year jail sentence for comments he made about Islam and the Egyptian president. In December, Iranian blogger Shahram Rafizadeh was charged with "participation in formation of groups to disturb national security" and "propaganda against the state."

Going Global? Prepare to Play by Local Rules

The Web has created a forum for content that transcends national boundaries, making the dissemination of politically and socially sensitive information far easier. In response to this phenomenon, however, many conservative regimes around the world have placed strict restrictions on the nature of the content available to their citizens. As a result, numerous companies are challenged with the morally sensitive issue of deciding what rules they are willing to abide by in order to do business internationally. It can be a tough call, with some companies choosing to censor their own content. There are also companies that although not engaged in self-censorship, are being forcibly censored. Here's a look at some of the major players recently silenced by global Internet censorship.

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