Microsoft has shut down the site of a well-known Chinese blogger who used its MSN online service in China after he discussed a high-profile newspaper strike that broke out here one week ago.
The decision is the latest in a series of measures in which some of the US' biggest technology companies have cooperated with the Chinese authorities to censor Web sites and curb dissent or free speech online as they seek access to China's booming Internet marketplace.
Microsoft drew criticism last summer when it was discovered that its blog tool in China was designed to filter words like "democracy" and "human rights" from blog titles. The company said on Thursday that it must "comply with global and local laws."
"This is a complex and difficult issue," said Brooke Richardson, a group product manager for MSN in Seattle. "We think it's better to be there with our services than not be there."
The site pulled down was a popular one created by Zhao Jing (趙京), a well-known blogger with an online pen name, An Ti (安替). Zhao, 30, also works as a research assistant in the Beijing bureau of the New York Times.
The blog was removed last week from a Microsoft service called MSN Spaces after the blog discussed the firing of the independent-minded editor of the Beijing News, which prompted about 100 journalists at the paper to go on strike on Dec. 29. It was an unusual show of solidarity for a Chinese news organization in an industry that has long complied with tight restrictions on what can be published.
The move by Microsoft comes at a time when the Chinese government is stepping up its own efforts to crack down on press freedom. Several prominent editors and journalists have been jailed in China over the last few years and charged with everything from espionage to revealing state secrets.
Another research assistant for the New York Times, Zhao Yan (no relation to Zhao Jing), was indicted last month on charges that he passed state secrets to the newspaper, which published a report in 2004 about the timing of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin's decision to give up the country's top military post.
China closely monitors what its people post on the Internet, and the government regularly shuts Web sites and deletes postings that are considered anti-administration. A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the company had blocked "many sites" in China. The MSN Spaces sites are maintained on servers in the US.
Richardson of Microsoft said Zhou's site was taken down after Chinese authorities made a request through a Shanghai-based affiliate of the company.
The shutdown of Zhao's site drew attention and condemnation elsewhere online this week. Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, wrote on her blog, referring to Microsoft and other technology companies: "Can we be sure they won't do the same thing in response to potentially illegal demands by an overzealous government agency in our own country?"
Robert Scoble, a blogger and official "technology evangelist" for Microsoft, took a public stand against the company's action.
"It's one thing to pull a list of words out of blogs using an algorithm. It's another thing to become an agent of a government and censor an entire blogger's work," he wrote.