英国《金融时报》 Lex专栏

In 1998, Bill Clinton, US president, spoke about the “revolutionary democratising potential” of the internet. This year his wife Hillary, secretary of state, gave a more downbeat speech on internet freedom. Standing in a museum that displays chunks of the Berlin Wall, she lamented: “Even as networks spread to nations around the globe, virtual walls are cropping up in place of visible walls.”

1998年,美国总统比尔•克林顿(Bill Clinton)曾谈到互联网具有“革命性的民主化潜力”。而今年,他的夫人——美国国务卿希拉里(Hillary)对互联网自由发表的一个谈话,则悲观了许多。站在展示柏林墙碎块的博物馆里,她悲叹道:“正当网络延伸至全球各国时,虚拟的墙正不断冒出来,取代看得见的墙。”

The young internet appealed to entrepreneurs and investors who wanted to be ethical as well as profitable. As the innocents at Google put it, “don’t be evil”. But the hope that the new technology would be an inherently liberal force has been shaken by the relative ease with which authoritarian governments have managed to control it.


Consider some recent examples. When Google left China (sort of) in protest at genuine government censorship and surveillance, its western peers did not follow. A journalist arrested and tortured in Iran is suing Nokia Siemens Networks in a US court over alleged provision of surveillance technology to the Iranian government. Threatened with a ban from India and some Gulf states, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is debating allowing those governments access to customers’ encrypted e-mails. Analyst downgrades have followed, in part from the fear that other countries may follow suit.

想想最近的一些例子吧。为抗议真实的政府审查和监视,谷歌(Google)离开了中国(在一定程度上吧)。离开时,其西方同行没有效仿。一名曾在伊朗被捕并遭到刑讯拷问的记者,正在一个美国法庭起诉诺基亚西门子网络(Nokia Siemens Networks),控告后者向伊朗政府提供了监视技术。在印度和一些海湾国家受到“禁入”威胁的黑莓(BlackBerry)制造商Research in Motion(RIM),开始考虑是否要给那些国家的政府权限,让他们能访问用户加密的电子邮件。部分出于其它国家可能效仿的担心,分析师纷纷下调了对RIM的评级。

Perhaps big tech companies have sacrificed some principles for the sake of profit, but even investors who do not worry about morals are hardly rejoicing. They see companies squeezed between aggressive governments in promising markets and customers who worry about the security of their data. More generally, investors do not want the tech sector to lose its halo.


The problem is in part one of high expectations. Big tech companies were meant to be the agents of border-busting globalisation – the past decade’s buzzword – but are confronted with nation states determined to exert their sovereignty. Idealists and investors should remember that the latter are still more powerful than the former.