Yahoo! needs to click its refresh button on Internet Censorship in China

By Tony Cruz, AIUSA’s Business and Economic Relations Group

Yahoo! held its annual shareholder meeting on June 25th — the first meeting with the company’s new CEO, Carol Bartz. In the meeting, Ms. Bartz attempted to show a new face of Yahoo; a bolder and progressive “no-nonsense” Yahoo. It was my third Yahoo! shareholder meeting and a chance to see if Yahoo!’s new face meant new business practices that would respect human rights. I presented two questions:

  1. Since 2006, what concrete steps has Yahoo taken to address the problem of Internet censorship in China?
  2. Will you publicly support the Global Online Freedom Act; legislation that would give you the power to fight the Chinese government?

Ms. Bartz responded:

Okay, I’m going to go real simple here. Yahoo is not incorporated to fix China. I’m sorry. It wasn’t incorporated to fix China. It was incorporated to give people a free flow of information. Ten years ago the company made a mistake but you can’t hold us up as the bad boy forever. We have worked better, harder, faster than most companies to respect human rights and to try and make a difference. But it is not our job to fix the Chinese government. It’s that simple. We will respect human rights, we will do what’s right, but we’re not going to take on every government in the world as our mandate. That’s not the mandate that the shareholders gave us.

Not only did Ms. Bartz avoid answering my questions, she also seemed to have misconstrued their meaning. Amnesty International members are not asking Yahoo! to “fix” China. And we haven’t singled out Yahoo! in our campaign against Internet censorship. We’ve targeted Microsoft and Google, too. Because Yahoo!’s actions have led to the highly publicized imprisonment of two Chinese dissidents, we’ve asked the company to call for the release of Shi Tao and to adopt business practices that actively support human rights. You can take action right now to remind them.

After a civil suit was settled with Shi Tao’s family, Yahoo! attempted to “fix” itself. Yahoo! hired a new CEO and implemented a new marketing strategy to distance itself from its tarnished image. The company even created a Business and Human Rights Program. But Shi Tao remains in prison and Yahoo! continues to censor its search engine in China. (I wonder how that technology has helped the Chinese government to block browser searches using the key-word Uighur this week.) So, I still don’t understand how Yahoo! “will respect human rights” and “will do what’s right” when the company hasn’t addressed the problem of Internet censorship in China – a problem that limits innovation and restricts freedom of expression.

The Internet is vital in bringing change to China, and increasingly so around the world. It appears the Obama administration agree, since they objected to China’s mandated web filtering software. Former Amnesty USA Chair Chip Pitts has been blogging about tech companies and democratic rights and the reaction in the US Senate, following the news that Nokia provided technology to the Iranian government that was used to monitor and repress protesters and dissidents. Hmm… doesn’t that sound familiar?

Pitts makes a good point: whether the Internet’s “liberalizing effect” on the flow of information will continue greatly depends on how Internet technology companies, NGOs and governments interact. Take action and remind Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft that they, too, bear the burden of promoting the freedom of information no matter where they operate. It’s time to get behind the Global Online Freedom Act.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

12 thoughts on “Yahoo! needs to click its refresh button on Internet Censorship in China

  1. Ms. Bartz is absolutely, 100% correct in what she said. Yahoo! is not tasked with fixing China. That isn't the responsibility of the U.S, or Russia, or Germany, or any other nation other than… say it with me… China!!

    The Chinese government has no obligation they have not previously agreed upon to anyone except their own people. It is the responsibility of their people to fix any problems that may exist in their government. My ancestors stood up to their oppressive government, and a bunch of them died doing it, but thanks to them I'm better off now. China's population needs to step up. As it stands China is a sovereign nation, truly answerable to nothing outside their own borders. If you don't like how they do business, don't do business with them.

    And therein lies the key to this… Until you can create a situation where it is in their best interests to comply, they will simply, maybe even politely, tell you to pack sand. Of course if you think China lacks the resources to recover from losing internet services, you're sadly mistaken. All that will accomplish is causing them to become ever more isolated.

  2. Ms. Bartz is absolutely, 100% correct in what she said. Yahoo! is not tasked with fixing China. That isn’t the responsibility of the U.S, or Russia, or Germany, or any other nation other than… say it with me… China!!

    The Chinese government has no obligation they have not previously agreed upon to anyone except their own people. It is the responsibility of their people to fix any problems that may exist in their government. My ancestors stood up to their oppressive government, and a bunch of them died doing it, but thanks to them I’m better off now. China’s population needs to step up. As it stands China is a sovereign nation, truly answerable to nothing outside their own borders. If you don’t like how they do business, don’t do business with them.

    And therein lies the key to this… Until you can create a situation where it is in their best interests to comply, they will simply, maybe even politely, tell you to pack sand. Of course if you think China lacks the resources to recover from losing internet services, you’re sadly mistaken. All that will accomplish is causing them to become ever more isolated.

  3. Allison,

    By "ancestor" I am referring to my direct American lineage. I can trace my family back to members who fought in the American Revolution against England, securing my privileges (or "rights" as you might call them) in the United States.

    Since then I have had family members, that I am aware of, in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, acting to defend the interests of my nation. I myself served nearly a decade in the armed forces, in combat zones on three continents. I only left that obligation to care for my terminally ill wife.

    I believe it is the role of a nations people to secure the lifestyle they desire. It is not for other nations to tell them how to handle themselves.

    Yahoo is a corporation that has been in existence since 1994. China has 6000 years of history, and has influenced culture around the world. It is the birthplace of Shingdi, Confucianism, and Taoism. They field the largest military force on earth, and are a nuclear power. They have the second largest GDP on the planet, and 1/7th of the worlds people. They are a founding member of the UN, and hold one of its five permanent seats. Yet AIUSA somehow believes it is in the realms of reason to hold Yahoo!, known for offering web portal and seach engine services, accountable for the development of this nation.

    This is no different than an Islamic nation coming to the United States, and demanding we incorporate Sharia law so that they can do business in our nation in a way to which they are accustomed. China is a sovereign nation with their own laws, and customs. If Yahoo! wants to do business there, they have to play by China's rules, not ours.

    The lack of logic in this AIUSA article is mind-boggling. Do they actually believe China incapable of developing these services on their own? Do they think that denying these services to China will force them to open up?

  4. Hi there

    Thanks for your long and sincere response
    people in China too, hates the internet censorship. some of us using proxy or some program to break the block. but big corporations are sacrificing people's right to knowledge only for profit, I am all against them
    But meanwhile, I have little faith in persuading them not doing so, after all they are profit companies and china's too large a market to ignore. and our government is particularly sensitive on this issue.
    I expect changes resulted from education, esp media education. the more you know media is not trustworthy and the more you are curious to find the truth, the more effort you will pay in trying
    as for the leak of personal information, we are angry towards it. but the truth is, more or less, we know that in china phone calls and emails are of course under supervision, so self-censorship became very common.
    I hope organizations like amnesty will keep pushing chinese government, though I doubt change will happen

    allison

  5. Allison,

    By “ancestor” I am referring to my direct American lineage. I can trace my family back to members who fought in the American Revolution against England, securing my privileges (or “rights” as you might call them) in the United States.

    Since then I have had family members, that I am aware of, in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, acting to defend the interests of my nation. I myself served nearly a decade in the armed forces, in combat zones on three continents. I only left that obligation to care for my terminally ill wife.

    I believe it is the role of a nations people to secure the lifestyle they desire. It is not for other nations to tell them how to handle themselves.

    Yahoo is a corporation that has been in existence since 1994. China has 6000 years of history, and has influenced culture around the world. It is the birthplace of Shingdi, Confucianism, and Taoism. They field the largest military force on earth, and are a nuclear power. They have the second largest GDP on the planet, and 1/7th of the worlds people. They are a founding member of the UN, and hold one of its five permanent seats. Yet AIUSA somehow believes it is in the realms of reason to hold Yahoo!, known for offering web portal and seach engine services, accountable for the development of this nation.

    This is no different than an Islamic nation coming to the United States, and demanding we incorporate Sharia law so that they can do business in our nation in a way to which they are accustomed. China is a sovereign nation with their own laws, and customs. If Yahoo! wants to do business there, they have to play by China’s rules, not ours.

    The lack of logic in this AIUSA article is mind-boggling. Do they actually believe China incapable of developing these services on their own? Do they think that denying these services to China will force them to open up?

  6. I can appreciate your people being interested in these things, much more so than outside forces like Amnesty International pushing for change.

    I disagree that big corporations are sacrificing people's rights for profit, instead I would say they are simply complying with the law of the land. I promise you don't want to live in a nation where the corporations control the government that easily – fascism is no picnic.

    If you want change, then do what it takes to get the laws changed. If enough of your people want it, the government will have to concede. A government functions at the will of the people. Until the people have the will to enforce change the government, it will not see the need to change.

    There are many times I have thought the US should be more like China, by being a lot less concerned about what the rest of the world thinks.

    Peace.

  7. Hi there

    Thanks for your long and sincere response
    people in China too, hates the internet censorship. some of us using proxy or some program to break the block. but big corporations are sacrificing people’s right to knowledge only for profit, I am all against them
    But meanwhile, I have little faith in persuading them not doing so, after all they are profit companies and china’s too large a market to ignore. and our government is particularly sensitive on this issue.
    I expect changes resulted from education, esp media education. the more you know media is not trustworthy and the more you are curious to find the truth, the more effort you will pay in trying
    as for the leak of personal information, we are angry towards it. but the truth is, more or less, we know that in china phone calls and emails are of course under supervision, so self-censorship became very common.
    I hope organizations like amnesty will keep pushing chinese government, though I doubt change will happen

    allison

  8. I can appreciate your people being interested in these things, much more so than outside forces like Amnesty International pushing for change.

    I disagree that big corporations are sacrificing people’s rights for profit, instead I would say they are simply complying with the law of the land. I promise you don’t want to live in a nation where the corporations control the government that easily – fascism is no picnic.

    If you want change, then do what it takes to get the laws changed. If enough of your people want it, the government will have to concede. A government functions at the will of the people. Until the people have the will to enforce change the government, it will not see the need to change.

    There are many times I have thought the US should be more like China, by being a lot less concerned about what the rest of the world thinks.

    Peace.

  9. {I think|My opinion on} what your {mention|talk|bring up} in {this article|the content} is something {really|very|surely} {helpful|assistive|uesful}, {many|a lot of|some} {people|folks} will gain from this {post|article}. {Thanks|Thank you}.

  10. {I think|My opinion on} what your {mention|talk|bring up} in {this article|the content} is something {really|very|surely} {helpful|assistive|uesful}, {many|a lot of|some} {people|folks} will gain from this {post|article}. {Thanks|Thank you}.