BIll Gates (BG):….Now in some ways, the digital world is superior. The ability to have anonymity is actually better when you want it. There’s no such thing as going to a soapbox and saying the government’s corrupt and not having the intelligence service see your face. In the digital world, that can be done.
FT: Unless you’re in China.
BG: No, in fact, it can even be done in China. Now China may not like that. ….There are websites that any government wants to block. The truth about the internet is that it’s extremely hard to block anything – extremely hard. You’ll never get perfect blocking. It is an interesting thing that the tools of technology are creating a level of openness that is good in some ways. But there are these things where – like child pornography – it’s harder to block or track than it would have been in the physical world.
FT: Do you keep information on servers inside China?
BG: Our servers are all outside China. This whole thing of inside versus outside China, I never understand that, it somehow comes up in the Google discussion. I don’t get that at all. This is not about where the servers are. We don’t have servers inside China, we just don’t. It may be that for responsiveness at some point we’ll do that, but that’s not the way we work today.
FT: Should the US government establish guidelines to regulate how internet companies deal with censorship in countries like China?
BG: I think something like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been a resounding success in terms of very clearly outlining what companies can’t do and other rich countries largely went along with that. That’s a great thing. I think – [it] may be that idea [will] come along. I hope the people who make those things are sophisticated and not over-simplistic…..
…Clearly people like ourselves are glad to go along with whatever reasonable things gets laid down. That’s why its part of the dialogue.
The internet overwhelmingly makes information available. It is not possible to block information, it is just not. You can make it so that the average person who just clicks on popular websites, with no extra effort, certain things don’t show up there. But in terms of actually blocking information… it’s bad news if you like to block libelous websites, or child pornography, or various things, copyright stealing. It’s very hard to do blocking. You can only take the very direct paths. And particularly if you put something up that says, we took this thing down, think of the time period between when you put it up and when it comes down and how people can cache that. It’s hard to block information. It’s so night and day versus when newspaper publishers and TV owners were small chokepoints that controlled the distribution of information.