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How Yahoo assist Government Censorship in China(9)

Posted by Author on August 28, 2006

(cont’d)

Few concrete actions: Aside from repeated statements of regret about what happened to the four Chinese government critics and pledges of continued commitment to the above principles, Yahoo! executives have refused to do anything further to reverse the wrongs perpetrated on at least four Chinese citizens with Yahoo!’s help. At Yahoo!’s 2006 annual shareholder meeting, Anthony Cruz, a shareholder representing Amnesty International, challenged Yahoo! executives, including Chief Executive Terry Semel and co-founder Jerry Yang, to publicly ask the Chinese government to release imprisoned Internet dissidents. Yahoo!’s top management declined Cruz’s request. Yang said “We are going to do it in the way we think is most appropriate,” and “we don’t have a lot of choice once we are in the country and complying with the local laws.”76 Semel deflected responsibility back to the U.S. government: “I don’t think any one group and I don’t think any one company can change the course of governments….The way I believe major change comes about is when those groups work together and also put certain pressure on our own government….Ultimately, governments do bring about change in other governments, particularly if they are trading partners.”77

As Alibaba’s Jack Ma indicates above, in early 2006 Yahoo! asked Alibaba to adhere to a strict policy about the conditions under which it is acceptable to release user data to Chinese authorities. It appears, based on conversations with industry executives, that this was in response to public criticism. In his recent San Francisco Chronicle interview, Ma rejected the idea of moving user data overseas, saying “That doesn’t make any sense. Even outside China, if it is a terrorist, or if it is national security, you still have to deal with it. Even if your main operation is outside China, you still have to comply.”78 Absent from this reasoning is the recognition that different governments define national security very differently, and that courts in many other countries are independent, while Chinese courts have a well documented track record of acting as an arm of the government and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and treating peaceful challenges to the ruling party’s legitimacy as a threat to national security.79

In keeping with recent statements by Yahoo! executives, in May 2006 Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel responded that providing the censored and politically compromised services still benefits the Chinese people more than if Yahoo! were absent from China altogether.80 On July 27, 2006, Yahoo! China began running a disclaimer notice at the bottom of all search pages, which says in Chinese “According to relevant laws and regulations, some search results may not appear.” While this represents a step in the right direction, Human Rights Watch does not believe that this notice in small print at the very bottom of all search results pages (regardless of the search term) represents “maximum transparency to the user” as stated by Yahoo! to be the company’s goal in congressional testimony. This is especially the case when it is clear from test results that Yahoo! censors its results more heavily than its competitors but gives the user no explanation as to why this is necessary. “Maximum transparency to the user” would entail informing users of how many results have been censored and why, and giving clear information about how the search engine’s censorship decisions get made, so that the user knows what he or she is missing and knows who is responsible for the content’s absence. Without such steps, the search engine continues to play the role of non-transparent censor. (to be cont’d…)
– From IV. How Multinational Internet Companies assist Government Censorship in China,
of “Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship,” by Human Rights Watch

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