A report in today’s Financial Times says, “Yahoo has called for broad co-operation among internet, media and communication companies and the US government to counter Chinese censorship on the web.”
The company is calling on the other tech giants, along with the US Government to take a harder, collective stand against Chinese Government censorship of the web.
Along with rivals Google, MSN and Cisco Systems, Yahoo has drawn a lot of flak from human rights activists and values based western businesses for appearing to give in to Chinese Government demands regarding the censoring of information and for providing information on China based users.
Yahoo has faced a great deal of criticism after information it gave the Chinese Government in at least two instances resulted in prison terms for Chinese bloggers. Last week, the press freedom organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) called on Yahoo to supply a list of all cyber dissidents it has provided various governments data on, starting with 81 people in China.
In its release, RSF said, “The firm (Yahoo) says it simply responds to requests from the authorities for data without ever knowing what it will be used for. But this argument no longer holds water. Yahoo certainly knew it was helping to arrest political dissidents and journalists, not just ordinary criminals. The company must answer for what it is doing at the US congressional hearing set for February 15.”
Michael Callaghan, Yahoo’s general counsel told the Financial Times, “This is everyone’s dilemma, operate in a country and comply with laws that lack transparency, or withdraw. No one company, no one industry can tackle this on its own. We very much look forward to taking this to Washington.”
Yahoo’s basic dilemma is this. They are required to follow the law of the land in which they operate or leave. Leaving is, of course, not an option, especially with direct rivals Google and MSN competing their way into the Chinese space. Yahoo is not going to make sacrifices on its own unless every other player agrees to make similar sacrifices. That seems natural. Would you want to be on the management team explaining to shareholders the details of a sudden, unilateral exit from the fastest growing market in the world?
Yahoo appears to be taking a moral stand, one that is a long time in coming. It will be very interesting to hear their Congressional testimony on Wednesday February 15. It will also be interesting to see if other western businesses who profess to value freedom of speech and freedom of information heed Yahoo’s call for collective action.