Yesterday, I reported on the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority's official request for proposals (RFP) for an internet filtering system and its implications on internet and SEO in Pakistan. The system would need to be able to block 50 million websites for content that is not fit to be seen by the Pakistani citizenry. Now, more information regarding companies' responses to the request is available. Bolo Bhi, an advocacy organization in Pakistan that offers policy and research insight, wrote to eight of the largest providers of security products asking them not to bid on the contract for Pakistan's firewall. Five of the eight companies have offered a reply (Cisco, Sandvine, McAfee, Verizon, and Websense) stating they will not respond to the RFP. McAfee is the latest company to take a stance directly saying via Twitter, McAfee has confirmed that it is not pursuing the Pakistan Firewall RFP.
The issue is complicated and presents a special case in how business intersect political structures in international markets and how it all impacts public relations. Companies, whether based in Pakistan or not, have an opportunity to be legally paid for a product or service they provide, but in doing so could be considered complicit in apparent violations to human rights regarding censorship and freedom of speech. I have discussed this before; the impact of local conditions on business operations in different international markets is great. In such cases, businesses need to weigh their options and act appropriately - appropriately being the key word. Such actions carry tremendous communicative value as they have a build-in public relations function.
Submitting a proposal could bring negative pushback and unfavorable media attention to a company that could take years to recover from and that would be without the guaranteed up-side of getting the contract and by extension receiving that immediate business. The pushback would be simply for submitting a proposal and thus cementing interest. Cisco System is familiar with such a situation as they have received widespread criticism for developing the firewall in China. For the five companies that issued statements indicating they would not bid in this case, such considerations were undoubtedly factored into their decision. The implications for SEO and search engine optimization firms is not entirely clear, but at this point it appears such firms will be observing any changes to internet in Pakistan when and if more regulation does occur, and will then need to adapt from there.