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Gates: Chinese Internet Censorship 'Very Limited'

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates downplayed Chinese government Internet censorship when asked about the matter in a Monday ABC TV interview.

"Fortunately, the Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited," Gates said on the "Good Morning America" show (comment starts at 5:18). "It's easy to go around it, and so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important."

The context for Gates' comment was Google's statement on Jan. 12 that it might reconsider its operations in China, which includes censoring its Google.cn portal on behalf of the Chinese government. Google CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed last week that the company might change its approach to censorship of the portal.

Google's announcement drew praise from human rights organizations and Internet privacy organizations. A blog by the Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed with Google's approach. The EFF blog also concurred with Gates' idea that the censorship in China could be easily bypassed.

"There continue to be many ready means for circumventing China's censorship schemes, and we hope Google will continue to provide an uncensored Chinese language search engine, from servers outside China if need be," wrote Danny O'Brien, international outreach coordinator at the EFF.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CNBC earlier this month that Microsoft would comply with Chinese law. However, outside China, Microsoft would only comply if given "legitimate requests" from the Chinese government, Ballmer said.

Ballmer also reportedly told Houston oil company executives last week that "the U.S. is the most extreme when it comes to free speech," according to a Forbes' account.

An organization called the Global Network Initiative -- supported by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and various nongovernmental organizations -- was formed to provide guidance for Internet corporations with regard to government censorship and human rights issues. However, GNI has mostly issued bland statements and it has distanced itself from Google's stance on China, saying there is no single action for it or its members to follow.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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