Very often, it has not played very nice, using its size and muscle to influence politicians and journalists around the world, by enticements when it can, but with intimidation when it believes it must.
Microsoft is not the only company that uses these tactics, even in the IT industry(2). But the company has proven to be very good at them.
A website called Techrights recently accused Microsoft of, in essence, trying to control the British government where open-source standards and free software policies are concerned (3). These policies would cut into the company’s bottom line.
While the word “blackmail” has been bandied about, what Microsoft is doing in Great Britain to influence members of Parliament is not illegal, albeit unseemly. Unless the member being lobbied sees things Microsoft’s way, by giving its software preference, the company will start closing plants in his or her constituency.
Though these tactics have worked in the past, the government and media in Great Britain and other countries, India in particular, have started to resist.
Another piece in Techrights suggests that Microsoft buys favorable media coverage by hiring fake “journalists” who give the company favorable coverage (4).
Accepting money from anyone, whether it is a private company or a politician, in return for slanted coverage, is considered highly unethical in the journalism profession. The practice is more common overseas than in the United States.
Ironically enough, according to LUCID PRfolio, Apple Computer, Microsoft’s main competitor, takes the opposite stance and not only eschews paying for favorable coverage, but also is very transparent when flaws are discovered in its products (5). By contrast, when Microsoft discovers product flaws, it tends to downplay the implications.
Apple, as a reward for its honesty, has received harsh criticism in the media. CNet, an information technology journal, has been accused of accepting money from Microsoft and other companies in return for favorable reviews of its products. Thus, the line between independent journalism and advertising tends to be blurred.
Microsoft Can’t Strong Arm China
One country exists where Microsoft and other IT companies are not able to employ strong-arm tactics. That country is China, a state that has both a totalitarian government and a huge market that Microsoft is keen to service. That means that Microsoft, as well as companies such as Google and Yahoo, are uncharacteristically keen to comply with the Beijing regime’s demands, especially in regards to censorship.
According to Reuters (6), a Chinese human rights group called GreatFire.org claims that Microsoft is censoring certain search terms in its Bing search engine that the Chinese government believes to be inappropriate for its citizens.
One of the allegedly censored terms is “Dalai Lama,” the name of the Tibetan spiritual leader who is in exile because of his opposition to the Chinese occupation of his country. Microsoft has also been accused of censoring China’s version of Skype, an Internet telephones it operates.
For its part, Microsoft has denied the allegations of censorship, claiming that a software fault caused the effect that GreatFire,org believed was censorship. However, it is also clear that the Chinese government believes that control of information that its citizens are allowed to access is key to maintaining its grip on power.
With the willing aid of companies such as Microsoft, China has erected what has been called “the Great Firewall of China.” Just as the original Great Wall of China was built to keep out dangerous barbarians, the Great Firewall of China is designed to keep out dangerous ideas.
Ironically, the Chinese government has been able to suborn the help of companies such as Microsoft, which have flourished in the freedom of the West, in clamping down on freedom within its own country.