As Bill Gates prepares to fete the Chinese President at his homeâ€”and as last weekâ€™s headlines remind us that the â€œdo no evilâ€ motto of Google is meaningless [â€œGoogle defends censorship in Chinaâ€], we thought it would be useful to focus on a little discussed aspect of the â€œwe will do anything to market in Chinaâ€ tech story. Itâ€™s the role which interactive advertising is playing driving companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google to do anything to please the Chinese government; even the censoring of search content and the turning over of personal user data to the police.
Microsoft, in fact, has selected China as its primary location to create the next generation of interactive advertising technologies. adLab, based in Beijing, was launched by Microsoft in January. Its mission is to use its â€œstate-of-the-artâ€ facilities, and â€œtop-notch group of more than 50 researchersâ€ to â€œincubate advanced technologies â€¦designed to provide advertisers with rich targeting capabilities based on audience intelligence informationâ€¦â€ Among the expertise assembled at the Microsoft China lab are researchers expert in â€œdata mining, information retrieval, statistical analysis, artificial intelligence, â€¦and visual computing.â€ The Beijing facility is working (along with Seattle colleagues) on forty projects or soâ€”including on what they call â€œsocial network miningâ€ and â€œvideo hyperlink advertising.â€ These technologies will be used to more precisely target us with personalized advertising. They will give advertisers a rich set of personal information based on the tracking and analyzing of our behavior. Such data in the hands of marketers is bad enough. But it will also be likely turned over to governments, including authoritarian regimes.
By selecting Beijing as the location to help develop the companyâ€™s online business future, Microsoft has made a powerful statement about the importance of the China market itself. Theyâ€”as do Google and Yahooâ€”see many billions of dollars from the online targeting of billions of Chinese computer users. The three are all competing to dominate the China market. Microsoft even sued Google for stealing one its executives who is setting up its China-based research center.
Bill Gates, Jerry Yang, Eric Schmidt and the other executives should be challenging repressive regimes by refusing to operate in countries where search is censored and information about dissenters has to be turned over to authorities. But these companies see the digital future and itâ€™s about targeted adsâ€”along with new forms of commercial and political surveillance.