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Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have signed a global code of conduct promising to offer better protection for online free speech and against official intrusion. The Global Network Initiative follows criticism that companies were assisting governments in countries like China to censor the Internet. The guidelines seek to limit what data should be shared with authorities, in cases where free speech is an issue. "This is an important first step," said Mike Posner of Human Rights First. "What this is is a recognition by all these tech companies, the human rights groups and social investors that there has to be a collective response to this growing problem. "Companies need to step up to the plate and be more aggressive in challenging unwarranted government interference," he said.