Feeds

MS, Yahoo! and Google snub debate on freedom

Not all publicity is good publicity

The Power of One Infographic

Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft have passed up the chance to take part in a web conference on internet freedom being hosted by human rights group Amnesty International this evening.

The event is being held to discuss how free debate is being quashed by oppressive regimes. The three tech giants could have made a crucial contribution to the debate over whether isolation or inclusion is the best way to help people living under such regimes, as all have been criticised recently for bowing to oppressive practices.

With all three declining Amnesty's invitation to take part, it leaves a mere, but distinguished, assembly of internet dissidents, human rights groups, and people like Morton Sklar, the man who is taking Yahoo! to court to face the accusation that its collusion with the Chinese government has led to the torture of dissidents who used its email service.

Amnesty said in a statement that the "Chinese model" of internet repression, which involves blocking websites and arresting bloggers, is becoming popular around the world. The Open Net Initiative reported that 25 governments censor what their citizens can read on the internet.

The Chinese model, said Amnesty, allowed economic growth but not free speech or privacy.

Yahoo! helped the Chinese government trace Shi Tao, who was subsequently arrested and sentenced for 10 years for emailing a US human rights campaigner about how journalists' reports were being censored on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organisation of Human Rights USA, has complained about Yahoo! in a California court on behalf of Chinese citizens who claim to have suffered torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and imprisonment for doing nothing more than speek freely. Yahoo! is accused of handing copies of their emails and IDs over to Chinese investigators. The trial is due to open on 7 August.

Yahoo! will also be facing a shareholder motion on 12 June to cease its collusion with oppressive regimes. The issue was forced by public pension funds led by the New York City Comptroller, which has also taken on Google.

Google has been accused of filtering politically dissident web pages from the Chinese version of its search engine. Microsoft, meanwhile, stands accused of similar collusion, having closed the blog of Zhao Jing, the Beijng researcher of the New York Times.

Amnesty is disappointed the trio will not be discussing their policies in public. They had previously agreed to the debate the issue in a forum with Amnesty, other human rights organisations, and socially responsible investors 18 months ago. But the talks are being conducted under Chatham House rules.

"It would have been useful to have heard the arguments about why they behave as they do, and for them to hear the counter arguments, and how their activities are contrary to the business principles they describe - their belief in the internet being a forum for freedom of information. That's the platform that they've built their business on," said an Amnesty spokesman.

Bob Boorstin, director of policy communications and Google's representative at the closed talks, said it is better to give people access to most information than deny them some. Or to put it another way, deny them some so you can give them most.

That is the sort of compromise that has driven US trade policy over China against a tide of criticism of human rights abuses. The argument might therefore be made that inclusion is a greater ally to human rights than exclusion, but these corporations won't be the ones to do it.

This is, The Register understands, the kind of argument Yahoo! will be making to shareholders on 12 June. It might be difficult to sustain morally if it transpires that the corporate collusion of internet firms has led to torture of political dissidents.

Yahoo! was unavailable to state its position. Microsoft refused to comment. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.