Chinese regulators target Microsoft for office visits

Unclear whether an investigation is under way

Officials today from the China government appeared at four Microsoft offices, according to reports from the area, but the purpose of the visits was unclear.

Microsoft declined to confirm that an investigation was in progress, saying only that it would comply with any requests from authorities.

China media has pummeled Microsoft in recent months over a number of issues, including Windows 8, the aged Windows XP, Windows pricing and security, and allegations that the company cooperates with U.S. intelligence services, including the National Security Agency (NSA).

The South China Morning Post, a pro-Beijing English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong, first reported the unannounced visits to Microsoft offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai by authorities from China's State Administration for Industry & Commerce. The agency has some antitrust and consumer protection responsibilities, but also is in charge of corporate licensing, foreign company oversight and trademarks.

Although the South China Morning Post called the visits "raids" and said that they were part of an "official investigation," it provided no other details. The State Administration for Industry & Commerce was not available for comment, as it was after hours in China; an email requesting comment was returned undelivered.

The Reuters news service, meanwhile, characterized the appearance of authorities at Microsoft's office as "visits" and said nothing about an official investigation.

A Microsoft spokesperson today said that the company "will address any concerns the government may have," but did not elaborate.

Other outlets for announcements from China's government, including the Xinhua News Agency, did not carry the story on the Microsoft office visits.

Media in China, particularly state-controlled television broadcasters, newspapers and online news websites, have taken Microsoft to task for several months over Windows in general.

In May, Xinhua said that Windows 8 had been barred from government PCs. Last month, China Central Television (CCT), also operated by the state, claimed that Windows 8 stole data from computers, including phone numbers and financial information, and transmitted it to the U.S.

Government-run media has also complained about the high price of Windows 8, and reported that the government had been displeased that Microsoft ended support for the 13-year-old Windows XP.

In the past, Chinese Communist Party organs have also targeted a wide range of Western technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, as pawns of the NSA. Those attacks stemmed from the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has released copious amounts of secret information about the NSA's surveillance practices in the U.S. and around the world.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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