Oppression is a Business Cost for Yahoo

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Yahoo has settled with the families of the Chinese dissidents they helped the Communist government arrest. Via Wired:

Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed. But a source at Yahoo said the company has been “working with the families, and we’re working with them to provide them with financial, humanitarian and legal assistance.”

Yahoo has also agreed to establish a global human rights fund to provide “humanitarian relief” to support dissidents and their families. The source said that details still have to be worked out.

Despite the new human rights friendly rhetoric:

“After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo! and for the future,” said Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang in a statement. “Yahoo! was founded on the idea that the free exchange of information can fundamentally change how people lead their lives, conduct their business and interact with their governments.”

“We are committed to making sure our actions match our values around the world. That’s why we are also working to establish a Human Rights Fund to provide humanitarian and legal aid to dissidents who have been imprisoned for expressing their views online,” he said.

This is unlikely to bring about meaningful change in how the company operates in China:

Yahoo said nothing, however, about the future provision of e-mail services to users in China. Its competitor Google has decided not to host e-mail or blogging services for users within the jurisdiction of mainland Chinese authorities.

In fact even the help they are offering comes in response to increasing public pressure:

The settlement comes after lawmakers blasted Yang and Yahoo’s top lawyer Michael Callahan last week in a congressional hearing over how Yahoo has handled the entire chain of events surrounding the arrests.

“It took a tongue-lashing from Congress before these high-tech titans did the right thing and coughed up some concrete assistance for the family of a journalist whom Yahoo had helped to send to jail,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos in a statement issued Tuesday. “In my view, today’s settlement is long overdue.”

The “after meeting with the families” line is about as transparent as bullshit gets.

So what does this new position of Yahoo’s really say about the state of human rights in China, and the corporation’s role?

A commentator at slashdot summed it up quite nicely (emphasis mine):

MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday November 13, @05:08PM (#21342423)
(Last Journal: Tuesday March 13 2007, @02:39PM)

 

I doubt it. I’m sure, if you’re a Chinese journalist or dissident using Yahoo China for communications and the authorities figure you’re saying critical things about them or reporting the truth of their regime, Yahoo will happily sell you out, but now with the added dimension that they’ll buy off your relatives.

 

Human Rights violations have become another line item in the budget. To be fair, its probably a few line items. PR firm, legal defense fund, lawsuit settlement. There. All done, nice and tidy. Now Yahoo can continue business as usual.

(Out of curiosity, I wonder if Yahoo for Good is banned in China, or if it comes with a disclaimer for Chinese citizens: “Warning, this may get you arrested and possibly tortured”?)

Back to the Wired Article:

In a statement issued Tuesday, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said that the settlement doesn’t obviate the need for his proposed bill, which would among other things make it illegal for US tech companies to divulge identifying user information to repressive regimes, and allow affected parties to bring civil suits against such companies in the United States.

“As a nation, we have a responsibility to continue to push for the release of these human rights leaders and pass the Global Online Freedom Act to prevent this egregious human rights abuse from happening to others,” said Smith in a statement. “Much like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, my legislation will make certain that US companies are not compelled to comply with local Secret Police or any other unlawful policies when operating in foreign markets.”

Call in to your Representative and Senator. Ask them to support Smith’s bill, and to oppose Yahoo’s crass lobbying:

Yahoo is working “pro-actively” with lawmakers on the bill, said the Yahoo source. They added that Yahoo supports the “overall objectives” of the bill, but that there are still provisions in it that would effectively ban the company from doing business in China.

 

The bill would send a clear message to internet companies: You can’t get away with this. Right now, Yahoo thinks they can.

We can prove them wrong.

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