The big three, namely Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, have signed a global code of conduct which promises to offer better protection for online free speech and limit official intrusion.
This ‘Global Network Initiative’ follows criticism that companies were assisting governments in certain countries, China being a prime example, to censor the Internet.
The guidelines, seen as a ‘promising start’, seek to limit what data should be shared with authorities, especially in cases where free speech is an issue.
All three of the internet giants have been accused, at various times, of complying with Chinese government demands relating to the internet and internet access, a situation which has led to them being accused of contributing to the construction of what is commonly referred to as The Great Firewall of China.
Google have been accused of complying with demands by the Chinese government to filter words or phrases, such as ‘Tiannaman Square’ or ‘democracy’, during searches and to eliminate the results.
Yahoo have been accused of supplying the private data of a Chinese reporter to the Chinese authorities which led to that reporter being jailed for ten years.
Microsoft has been accused of agreeing to block the blog of a prominent Chinese researcher whose articles were critical of the authorities.
A Skype joint venture in China ended up with users’ communications being monitored.
The Global Network Initiative is being welcomed by many as a step in the right direction and several otrher large companies, such as Vodafone, are thought to be considering signing up.
However, the initiative is not without its critics, who say that, in fact, it does not go nearly far enough and is, in effect, just a ‘statement’ with little or no means of backing it up.
What people, and businesses, are actually looking for is a completely open, freely accessible and secure internet service where freedom of expression and privacy are paramount and not subject to outside (government) pressure.
That’s not to say that there should be no regulation, far from it, it is the political interference and suppression of basic human rights which is not wanted.