We Hate What You Did With Our Help (Updated)

June 12th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  4 Comments

Yahoo makes with the stupid:

“Yahoo criticized China in a brief statement that didn’t specifically mention the case of jailed journalist Shi Tao, whose mother visited Hong Kong on Sunday. Shi was sentenced to 10 years in 2005 after sending an e-mail about Chinese media restrictions.

“The company has acknowledged sharing information about Shi with Chinese authorities.

“‘Yahoo is dismayed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views on the Internet,’ the company said in the statement faxed to The Associated Press, which asked Yahoo to comment on Shi’s lawsuit.

“The Internet company, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., also said it has told China that it condemns ‘punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression.’

“However, Yahoo added that companies operating in China must comply with Chinese law or risk having their employees face civil or criminal penalties.”

If you’re a reporter in China, and if you discuss the restrictions you live under using Yahoo mail, when the government comes to throw you in jail Yahoo will abet it, then “condemn” what a known authoritarian regime did with the information, and then try to paper over its compliance by saying “Well, if we don’t our employees could go to jail.”

Hey, Yahoo. Here’s an idea:

Quit doing business in China or, more realistically, follow the example of other companies and don’t offer services in China that put you in that position. Then your employees won’t face prison for doing the right thing.

Using any public Internet service is a gamble when it comes to your ongoing privacy. Between security failures, surreptitious government monitoring and overt legal requirements that could compromise your privacy, there’s no level of true long-term security. If you aren’t willing to go end-to-end with encryption and communicate only with trusted parties from a server you physically control, all you can do is pick the least objectionable public provider and hope it puts up a public and vigorous fight if the government ever comes calling for a key to the back door.

Why would anyone trust Yahoo to do that?

It hands over people who’ve stated plainly evident truths to a government that swallows them up in its prisons, tortures them, and does its best to ruin and break them.

How can anyone claim to hate Guantanamo Bay or the PATRIOT Act then turn around and let Yahoo off the hook for doing business with a government that has institutionalized even worse than those two examples?

Update: Evidently China also memory-holed flickr for hosting pictures of the Tiananmen massacre.

“We are currently investigating this issue and hope that it is only a temporary one,” says Yahoo.

Not likely. The Chinese government is in it for the long haul.


  1. gl. says:

    June 12th, 2007 at 2:15 pm (#)

    isn’t google also being evil in similar ways?

  2. mph says:

    June 12th, 2007 at 3:01 pm (#)

    isn’t google also being evil in similar ways?

    Similar, but with one distinction: Google doesn’t operate services in China that involve the sort of information the Chinese government has gotten out of Yahoo with ease, like mail. At least, that’s my understanding of the situation from the last research I did.

    I don’t like Google’s “go along with Chinese censorship” policy, but as I noted previously when I blogged about this, it’s in a different league from Yahoo’s behavior:

    I’ve known about Yahoo’s nasty habit of handing information over that helps convict Chinese dissidents for a just over a year, and I’ve never been comfortable with it.

    At the same time, I guess I was rationalizing the whole thing by noting that other companies over there, Google and Microsoft for instance, haven’t exactly distinguished themselves as exemplars of courage. The difference, however, is that Google and Microsoft don’t offer services that would involve being put in the position of giving up a user’s information.

    Google says the evilness of its willingness to censor search results for the Chinese government is mitigated by its inclusion of a notice where a censored site would show up in the results. I agree that’s better than no notice at all, I disagree that the company’s essential complicity is meaningfully improved by that change. People in China know their government is censorious and authoritarian. Getting a little reminder now and then probably does as much good for them as me seeing a yellow ribbon magnet on someone’s SUV helps me remember we’re at war in Iraq.

    Still, Google does not collect information the Chinese government is interested in, and has not been (publicly) implicated in handing any information it does have to, as the World Organization for Human Rights said of Yahoo, ‘knowingly and willfully [aid] and [abet] in the commission of torture and other major abuses violating international law.’

    I see a distinction, and the nature of that distinction is enough for me to make the same tradeoffs re: doing business with Google that I make with any major corporate entity that’s behaving as a self-interested player in the global economy, with all the attendant moral problems that entails. Until the day I drop off the grid altogether — an unlikely event — that’s a set of tradeoffs and distinctions I’ll have to keep making case by case.

    What do you think?

  3. gl. says:

    June 14th, 2007 at 12:39 am (#)

    ah. i forgot gmail wasn’t in china yet. but it can’t be too long before they will be, in which case, what then?

  4. dot unplanned » License for Ill says:

    June 20th, 2007 at 11:52 am (#)

    […] recently asked “i forgot gmail wasn’t in china yet. but it can’t be too long before they will […]

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