Yahoo deserves the Craven Cowardice Corporate Award for providing evidence to Chinese authorities that helped convict a Chinese human rights activist on charges that he revealed “state secrets” via a U.S.-based China human rights online forum. The New York Times report on this story refers to sources which refute the government’s charge:
Chinese journalists say the information that Mr. Shi, a 37-year-old journalist and democracy advocate, provided to the New York Web site, called Democracy Forum [in Chinese], was already widely circulated. It involved routine instructions on how officials must safeguard social stability during the 15th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, democracy movement.
The story also reveals that Yahoo won’t say what information it provided, won’t say whether it snitched voluntarily or under government order. Basically, Yahoo won’t say anything other than:
“Just like any other global company, Yahoo must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.”
I see. So if a country tells you you must sacrifice a virgin each year to operate within it’s “customs” then you do it? And is there nothing that tells Yahoo executives that they should also provide some of the same respect and privacy that they would to there Western (including U.S.) users. My understanding is that before an ISP provides data about you to government authorities they have to inform you that they’ve been subpoenaed and provide you an opportunity to respond BEFORE they comply.
It’s probably unlikely that Yahoo could get away with precisely that level of protection in China (though it should try) but did it even give Shi Tao a warning? We can’t know because Yahoo’s approach seems to be mum’s the word.
Yahoo’s co-founder, Jerry Yang, speaking at a Chinese business forum revealed that Yahoo had received a government order to cooperate and felt obliged to do so. Other than that, the same tight-lipped refusal to talk. Thankfully, Bill Clinton, speaking at the same conference at least alluded to the subject of intellectual freedom in his remarks at the same event though essentially his remarks were totally namby-pamby:
”The Internet, no matter what political system a country has, and our political system is different from yours, the Internet is having significant political and social consequences and they cannot be erased,” he said.
”The political system’s limits on freedom of speech … have not seemed to have any adverse consequences on e-commerce,” he said. ”It’s something you’ll all have to watch and see your way through,” he said.
The Times points out that Yahoo recently paid $1-billion to acquire Alibaba, a Chinese internet company and folding all its corporate efforts to penetrate the Chinese market into this venture. You don’t think the company’s cravenness has anything to do with protecting this investment and seeing billions of dollar signs in their corporate future from it, do you?
I’ve never used Yahoo’s services much and haven’t found them terribly compelling so I can’t say I’m abandoning Yahoo when I never used it to begin with. But I think that those who do use Yahoo in their internet lives should seriously reconsider at least until Yahoo gives a fuller explanation and responds more candidly to criticism of its behavior.
One must also add that Yahoo isn’t alone in its craven capitulation to Chinese government pressure. Google and Microsoft also censor websites which might offend government sensibilities, preventing the sites from appearing within searches performed by Chinese internet users. Though this practice is offensive, it’s slightly less offensive than actually turning in one of your own customers by obeying a trumped up, bogus charge.
Let’s reserve a note of praise for Time Warner’s Richard Parsons who’s thankfully got some backbone. Alternet.org reports these comments at Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative:
Parsons criticised Internet giant Yahoo’s recent decision to pass documents to the Chinese government that led to the conviction of a local journalist, the Financial Times said…
He said he had decided against distributing his AOL Internet business in China because the government wanted to monitor messages sent on the Internet service.
“We made a judgement it wasn’t a market we wanted to enter at this time,” he said.
Kudos too for Reporters Without Borders for taking up this issue, providing comprehensive background information on the case and for keeping Yahoo’s feet to the fire. I like the spunk behind this statement:
“We already knew that Yahoo ! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know it is a Chinese police informant as well,” the press freedom organisation said.