I came across an interesting New York Times article from last year, with the headline "Bill Gates: Internet Censorship Won't Work." Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave a talk at Stanford University in February 2008 on "Software, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Giving Back." While there, he spoke briefly on the future of Internet censorship in the world. Gates believes Internet censorship attempts by countries such as China are ultimately doomed to fail. He states he doesn't "see any risk in the world at large that someone will restrict free content flow on the Internet." The reason behind Gates' belief that the Internet cannot be controlled is based on the conflict between business requirements and censorship.
In Gates' view, restrictions on free speech curtail business activity, so businesses will work against censorship. However, this directly contradicts Microsoft's own actions regarding Internet censorship. Especially with regard to China, Microsoft has cooperated with Internet censorship laws of other countries. For example, it has censored the content of Windows Live Spaces, its blog service. In late 2005, Microsoft removed the well-known blog of Chinese journalist Zhao Jing (a.k.a. Michael Anti) from Windows Live Spaces at the request of the Chinese government.
In February 2006, Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft's Managing Director of Federal Government Affairs, gave a congressional testimony on the topic of Internet in China. In it, he stated that Microsoft regretted having to remove the blog, but continuing to provide Internet services to the Chinese is more beneficial than resisting the Chinese government's wishes. The current stand of Microsoft is to remove content when the Chinese government sends an official notice indicating the material violates local laws.
The relationship between Microsoft and the Chinese government indicates the interaction between businesses and governments, especially foreign governments, is more complex than Gates states. The wishes of big businesses influence the government, but only to a certain extent. In the end, businesses are no match against government laws supporting Internet censorship. There is often no reason for businesses to stand up to the government, since cooperation is a much easier option. With this in mind, Gates' belief that Internet censorship will unavoidably come to an end in the future due to businesses working against censorship is a very debatable one. If Internet censorship ever disappears, it will be because of a combination of forces. Looking at the past, public disapproval and resistance will likely play a bigger role than the action of businesses.