Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on March 9, 2006
The pressure on Yahoo is increasing. During congressional hearings last month looking into the role American companies play in helping the Chinese government control the Internet in China, critics tore into Yahoo for complying with an order to provide information to the police that helped imprison a Chinese journalist. The journalist, named Shi Tao, had used a Yahoo email account to contact people outside the country.
When the case first caught people’s attention last year, I argued that criticism of Yahoo was unfair. A company operating in China doesn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which police orders it is going to follow. Not many people have found that that argument convincing. If being in China means that Yahoo has to abide with orders from the public security bureau, the reasoning goes, then Yahoo just shouldn’t be in China. Or, as one BW reader wrote in response to my article: “Since China makes it impossible to follow the law without being complicit in its flagrant disregard of human rights, it is impossible to do business in China.”
Yet Amnesty International seems to think that Yahoo can have it both ways. Amnesty has just launched a drive to get its members to write to Yahoo founders David Filo and Jerry Yang and insist that Yahoo reform itself. “We don’t really know how many voices have been silenced through Yahoo!’s collusion, or how many people have been rounded up,” Amnesty executive director Bill Schulz writes in the email. “What we do know, and why we need your help, is that Yahoo! cannot hide behind the supposed realpolitik of working in China.” Amnesty instructs its members to send a message to Yahoo demanding that the company “[u]se its influence to secure Shi Tao’s release.” It’s interesting that Amnesty assumes Yahoo actually has influence on the Chinese government. A pretty big assumption. Amnesty doesn’t say what Yahoo should do when (not if) Beijing ignores its concerns.