On Feb. 1, Microsoft announced its intention to buy Yahoo! for over $40 billion, which quickly drew opposition from online search-engine giant Google. Although corporate consolidation is nothing new in the business world, the trend of putting more power into fewer hands may lead the once-boundless realm of the Internet to become more limited than previously thought possible.
Although Internet content remains unregulated in the United States, the same cannot be said the world over. This is particularly troubling when one realizes that Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google are always willing to settle with countries that regulate Internet content as long as said companies are assured that they will increase their profits for the current fiscal year.
Take China and its citizens’ relationship with the three aforementioned companies in recent years. While Google’s agreement to filter words banned by the People’s Republic of China may be the most infamous example of Internet restrictions, the other two companies are also guilty of this practice.
According to one CNN report, Microsoft removed the blog of PRC critic Zhao Jing from its servers in order to maintain a healthy relationship with Chinese authorities in 2006. And according to BBC News, Yahoo! made a similar maneuver by aiding Chinese authorities in arresting journalist Shi Tao for writing investigative journalism pieces that released unauthorized information in 2005.
Considering their similar stances on assisting government censorship for the sake of profit, why are multi-billion dollar companies such as Microsoft and Google buying other multi-billion dollar companies? After all, they practice the same business methods, right?
The answer lies in the numbers, as many non-Fortune 500 companies that have strong online presences are unwilling to bow to government censorship demands. Since 2001, Wikipedia has refused to restrict Chinese visitors from accessing certain materials prohibited by the PRC.
However, if corporations like Microsoft and Google have the power to impose their policies by absorbing companies as large as Yahoo!, the same could just as easily be done to Wikipedia. This would ultimately lead to fewer hands controlling online policy throughout the world.
Online powerhouses such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google, as well as smaller mainstream Internet sources like Wikipedia, have different policies on government censorship. It is troubling that through corporate consolidation within the past decade, the likelihood of a monopoly