China, Free Speech

Yahoo’s China Problem

Today, we learn Yahoo! Hong Kong provided materials from of one of its users, including a draft e-mail he stored on a Yahoo! server, to a Beijing tribunal that led to his imprisonment.

This is immoral and wrong, plain and simple. Let's not tolerate any nonsense from Terry Semel or other Yahoos that they did this because they have to comply with local Chinese laws.

They have choices, including these two options:

1. Just say no. Have they tried that?

2. Stop offering services that can potentially entrap their users — users, by the way, who are being imprisoned just for committing their opinions to 0s and 1s stored on Yahoo servers. Stop providing services that can be traced to an individual, or that require any personally identifiable information, and that will ultimately be used by the Chinese government to hunt down dissenting voices and to put them away. Google, while it doesn't have totally clean hands, has effectively made this decision.

If Yahoo! doesn't take a firm step here, I'd support action by the government (the US government) to force it and other US-based companies to change behaviors. No more selling technologies that help build the Great Wall. No more provisioning of services that can serve as the handmaiden to the Chinese government investigative agencies.

Interested to hear what Yahoo! says about this. My cynical prediction: more of the same, it's not our fault, we have to comply with local laws, blah blah blah. As I've written before, an argument made by IBM, in the 1930s (and for decades afterwards), to justify their work compiling lists of Jews for the Nazis with their then-newfangled machines. Yes, this isn't of the same magnitude, but it's damned close on the continuum, and Yahoo (and its employees, all of them) should be ashamed.


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