Chinese bloggers posting their thoughts via Microsoft's net service face restrictions on what they can write.
MSN China launched in May 2005
Weblog entries on some parts of Microsoft's MSN site in China using words such as "freedom", "democracy" and "demonstration" are being blocked.
Chinese bloggers already face strict controls and must register their online journal with Chinese authorities.
Microsoft said the company abided by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates.
The censorship is thought to have been introduced as a concession to the Chinese government.
Also being restricted on the free parts of the site are journal entries that mention "human rights" and "Taiwan independence".
Those using these banned words or writing entries that are pornographic or contain sensitive information get a pop-up warning that reads: "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression."
Microsoft's MSN Spaces site is run by its joint venture partner, the state-backed Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd.
Microsoft said people who used its MSN Spaces service were required to abide by its code of conduct.
The code says that users are not allowed to upload, post, or distribute any content which "violates any local and national laws that apply to your location".
"Microsoft is a multi-national business and as such needs to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world," a Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC News website.
Focus on bloggers
The restrictions operate on the free online Spaces area of the MSN China site where many people have created journals or weblogs.
China recently introduced stringent regulations that require all blog owners to register their web journal with the state by 30 June.
The regulations require the writer of a blog to identify themselves to the authorities.
According to Reporters Without Borders, China is using a system called Night Crawler to patrol web journals and make sure that only registered blogs are published. Unregistered blogs will be shut down.
"Following Yahoo, here is a second American internet giant giving way to the Chinese authorities and agreeing to self-censorship", said the group in a statement.
"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."
"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."
Microsoft is not alone in co-operating with the Chinese authorities to police what people can do online.
Both Yahoo and Google have been criticised for similar activities and restricting what people can search for and read online.
Internet cafes have to police what the Chinese do online
"If you want to deal with the Chinese, you have to deal with their rules," said William Makower, CEO of Panlogic a marketing consultancy with operations in China.
"It is all very well to have high-minded ideals about how you want the Chinese to behave, but opposing China is going to be counter-productive."
"Microsoft is being pragmatic in its approach," said Mr Makower. "It is not up to it to make political statements."
What is your reaction to this story? Do you think it is right for the Chinese authorities to censor blogs?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
I don't agree with the censoring of information by any government, but I don't understand what is the problem with Microsoft actions here. As all companies, Microsoft is at making money and in the modern world, ethics is not good for business, which is sad but you can see it almost anywhere if you have a look at the world.
David, Dublin, Ireland
Anyone who thinks capitalists ultimately respect democracy and freedom are sadly mistaken. The only thing capitalists respect is the almighty dollar. They will sacrifice almost anything to increase their bottom lines.
David, Ottawa, Canada
Why is anybody surprised? Microsoft is not exactly famed for its ethical business practices, and is legally bound (like all business corporations) to increase shareholder value. Taking the moral high ground and missing out on lucrative Chinese contracts won't increase profits (and dividends), so they have no incentive to do otherwise.
Craig, Edinburgh, Scotland
I'm not sure what censorship of words such as "freedom" and "democracy" achieves anyway. If a person wishes to write a political statement against the Chinese Government they can easily do this with out such words. Censoring words wont stop views associated with them, it will only drive the views else where. The internet is truly vast and I find it amusing when Governments try to control its use.
Chris, Telford, UK
I think it is unfair to say Microsoft is bowing to pressure. Look what happened to Google when they didn't when the Chinese government took offence - they blocked all links to the search engine. Most other companies would have done the same as Microsoft. It is the Chinese Government who are forcing the restrictions.
Johnny Sutherland, Limburgerhof, Germany
Microsoft is a business and as such its aim is to maximize revenue. The responsibility for delivering a 'better' or more 'democratic' world will ultimately fall to big business - but it won't happen until the conditions to do so are present. Right now, they aren't, Microsoft would be insane to refuse to co-operate with the Chinese government.
Chirag, London, UK
Just keep in mind that the complaining that you're doing is probably being typed up on an electronic good that was manufactured in China. At the very least that keyboard that you're rattling away on was made there. So let's talk about ethics, you give your money to a company that pays taxes or is owned by the Chinese government which in result is used to fund programs to censor and repress their people. Pot, meet kettle.
Dave, Prague, Czech Republic
If Microsoft would say no to censorship then they might not get the contract, but if other companies had the strength to also say no then the Chinese government would feel the pressure for a change.
Gavin Berry, Chesterfield, England
I think people are people are misplacing blame here on Microsoft. They are abiding to national law, just like Yahoo and Google have done previously. A company can't operate outside of the law. If the finger is to be pointed anywhere it should be at the country imposing the laws.
I think this yet another sad example of a major company compromising ethics in order to secure market share. I think Google too, are especially sailing very close to wind staring in the face of their motto of "do no evil".
Cecil Christian, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
While Microsoft is at it, perhaps it could stop the 27% of spam that originates in China too.
Boris, Hampshire UK
Everyone seems to be judging this by their own standards. The Chinese government have laws in place that, right or wrong, must be abided by. If Microsoft ignored this then it would be accused of pushing American views around the world and would be considered to be acting illegally. As stated previously, people who do want to get their voice heard uncensored will find a way.
Al Green, Manchester, UK
Nobody would suggest that Microsoft should get to decide who can say what. Equally, nobody would suggest that Microsoft should take it upon itself to decide which laws it is going to break in which countries. So surely it is doing the right thing by abiding by the law wherever it operates and by letting countries decide for themselves who can say what. If I abide by a law, that doesn't mean I agree the law is right; it simply means that I accept that laws should be followed by those to whom they apply. If I disagree with a law, I abide by it but do what I can to persuade those in power to change it.
Jon, Woking, UK
As a frequent visitor to China, I find that the people there are less restricted in terms of everyday life than we are and certainly freer than we will be here if ID cards and satellite tracking of cars is brought in. I think that we should take a strong look at our own eroding civil liberties here before commenting on other countries.
Paul, Stockport, UK
It's laughable that people are blaming Microsoft for a counties own laws. Microsoft is a business, their mission statement is to make money, much like most business! They are doing what is required to operate in China, and thus increasing market share, and finally raising profits. The only half heart argument is that due to the huge profits MS already have they could take a stand and make a statement by not agreeing to abide by this law. However, does anyone out there really believe this would make any difference? I don't. The Chinese government will continue to blindfold their youth with or without MS's backing.
Rob, Southampton, UK
The first thing I noticed when connecting to the internet in a Chinese hotel was that I couldn't access this BBC news site! It's a pity the people there won't be able to read these comments.
Histrionics aside, the reality is that censorship exists in every country. Censorship may take different forms - political, religious, moral - but it is still censorship. Companies should perhaps recognise this and build it into all their software products. Microsoft would then simply leave it to the local authority to customise in the desired form of censorship.
Ken Watson, Gouderak, The Netherlands
Blocking words such as "freedom" does not undermine the whole point of the internet. It is better that the Chinese get some access to the same services and information as the rest of the world. To deny them everything because they are not allowed it all would be giving them even less freedom. By allowing the Chinese people a glimpse of what others in the world have, they will see how they are restricted. They can then make there own mind up as a population if they want that state of affairs to continue.
David Channon, Southampton, UK
No matter how hard the Chinese try to sensor information online there will always be a way to get round it. The Chinese should spend less time and money trying to ban information and more time solving the problems they are avoiding by introducing these bans.
Ryan, Bristol, UK
It amazes me that people are criticising Microsoft over this. Surely it is the Chinese government to blame?
Russell Lambert, Hemel Hempstead
The issue isn't the company which is using technology to censor free speech, because if Microsoft didn't agree to these concessions they wouldn't be given the contract and another firm would take its place. What's important is the law, not the companies which abide by it. To ask Microsoft to do otherwise, is to ask it to behave as an ambassador, or an agent of US-foreign policy rather than a business leader and an innovator. It's not their job to spread democracy.
Steven Guess, Berkeley, California, USA
I couldn't believe this when I heard about it. Microsoft are obviously bowing to political pressure to protect their investments which is harming the global freedom of speech on the only medium capable getting opinions across on a global scale. People will find ways around this, technically savvy people always manage to stay one step ahead. It makes me feel very fortunate to live in a country where I still have civil liberties (although slowly depleting), and I hope that one day China will realise the stupidity in censoring a nation's point of view. Unfortunately as they are now a large global trading force, we will see more companies bowing to their requests to protect revenue. Disgusting.
F Walker, Surrey, United Kingdom
What is Microsoft at? On one side of the coin, Microsoft rightfully is after those who use their pirated software. And on that same side of the coin they are playing the role of wilful censors. If this isn't ethics flushed down the drain, then I don't know what to call it by.
Amarjeet Singh, Singapore
Surely blocking words such as "freedom" undermines the whole point of the internet! Microsoft should be ashamed of bowing down to the government in order to make money.
Matt, Glasgow, UK