Wednesday, February 22, 2006
There has been much kerfuffle about Google, and very little said about Yahoo. I think this is because Google's motto is "don't be evil," however, Yahoo has certainly done a hell of a lot itself. Yahoo gave information to the Chinese government that sent three journalists to prison. These journalists were Shi Tao, Li Zhi and Jiang Lijun. They were three Chinese cyberdissidents whom Yahoo helped send to prison for terms of 10 years, 8 years and 4 years, respectively. Nicholas Kristoff, behind Times select, wrote an excellent OpEd on the subject, discussing the various media companies that operate in China. His critique is as follows: Yahoo sold its soul and is a national disgrace. It is still dissembling, and nobody should touch Yahoo until it provides financially for the families of the three men it helped lock up and establishes annual fellowships in their names to bring Web journalists to America on study programs. Microsoft has also been cowardly, but nothing like Yahoo. Microsoft responded to a Chinese request by recently shutting down the outspoken blog of Michael Anti (who now works for the New York Times Beijing bureau). Microsoft also censors sensitive words in the Chinese version of its blog-hosting software; the blogger Rebecca MacKinnon found that it rejected as "prohibited language" the title "I Love Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and Democracy." Cisco sells equipment to China that is used to maintain censorship controls, but as far as I can tell similar equipment is widely available, including from Chinese companies like Huawei. Cisco also enthusiastically peddles its equipment to the Chinese police. In short, Cisco in China is a bit sleazy but nothing like Yahoo. Google strikes me as innocent of wrongdoing. True, Google has offered a censored version of its Chinese search engine, which will turn out the kind of results that the Communist Party would like (and thus will not be slowed down by filters and other impediments that now make it unattractive to Chinese users). But Google also kept its unexpurgated (and thus frustratingly slow) Chinese-language search engine available, so in effect its decision gave Chinese Web users more choices rather than fewer. We are entering an interesting crossroads in the world of media law. What we can find on the internet is increasingly being constrained by multinational corporations and the world of intellectual property law. China is but a case study on what may end up happening.