free html hit counter Yahoo and the Imprisoned Journalist - John Battelle's Search Blog

Yahoo and the Imprisoned Journalist

By - September 07, 2005

Greatwall-TmBy now you may have heard that Yahoo helped Chinese authorities track down a Chinese journalist (via his Chinese Yahoo email) who was subsequently jailed for “leaking state secrets” or somesuch brilliant bullshit. Here’s the SJMN coverage (reg) and Search Engine Journal’s coverage.

From the Merc:



Yahoo has provoked the ire of a media watchdog group for allegedly giving information to the Chinese government that led to the jailing of a Chinese journalist for leaking state secrets.

The controversy adds Yahoo to a growing list of U.S. companies that have faced scrutiny for their business dealings in China, a country that is coveted by businesses for its booming economy and reviled by activists for its censorship and human rights abuses….

….China’s “Public Pledge on Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry,” (is) a document signed by Yahoo and some other U.S. companies. The pledge commits signatories to make “energetic efforts to carry forward the rich cultural tradition of the Chinese nation and the ethical norms of the socialist cultural civilization” by observing all state industry regulations, according to the group Human Rights Watch. In particular, the document asks signatories to refrain “from producing, posting, or disseminating pernicious information that may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability.”

I’ve written about how Google struggled with this issue, and has gotten a fair amount of grief for it, but Yahoo and others have the same struggle. I pinged my contacts at Yahoo and all they could say was this:

“Just like any other global company, Yahoo! must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.”

How I wish these companies had the backbone to at least say what happened was wrong, that the Chinese system is wrong, that they regret they are in this position. Take a stand – say what I know you must feel! One can have an opinion, and still “operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.” Or is it also the law in China that US corporations can’t have an opinion?


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8 thoughts on “Yahoo and the Imprisoned Journalist

  1. Clyde Smith says:

    It’s not a matter of the law in China, it’s a matter of dealing with the state. What the law says and what the state does are two different things. Check out China, Inc. by Ted Fishman for a deep, insightful study of what’s happening for businesses in China.

    A company cannot make public statements against the Chinese government and expect to successfully do business in China. Private enterprise and government enterprise are too deeply intertwined. Seriously, if you want to take a strong human rights stand, you can’t be part of the China boom.

    Although the Western move into China may help the situation in the long run, in the short term you’re working with a highly abusive regime that has created a compliant, hungry workforce by brutal treatment that is absolutely unacceptable by any standards of human rights.

  2. PXLated says:

    Too bad. I think if you are an American company you should uphold American values wherever you do business. Maybe “The War on Error” should also apply to U.S. companies.

  3. >>>I think if you are an American company you should uphold American values wherever you do business.

    What are American values? You say that as if it actually MEANT SOMETHING.

    Obeying the laws of the government you are doing business in?

    Taking advantage of lax environmental laws in other countries and dumping mercury into freshwater lakes?

    What values are you talking about?

    I’m surprised that Battelle would take such a myopic position on this. Some people say that the PATRIOT ACT IS goes to far, but Yahoo would still have to provide the same info if requested under the laws of this land.

    And speaking of freedom of speech and American Values, the US government inhibits free speech by forbidding from New Orleans, by forbidding the publishing of images of the dead bodies in New Orleans, the US has killed more reporters in Iraq than in the entire Vietnam war.

    What do you mean by AMERICAN VALUES?

  4. rich says:

    The only reason they had to do with business with China is the same reason every other company has. Greed. This after all is a non-democratic state with weapons of mass destruction and a continuting history of oppression and torture of its own citizens, and dubious foriegn policy to its neighbours (India, etc)

    However firms are allowed to do business there because hey, they’re not Islamist and hey, they happen to be an economic powerhouse and a vast potential market.

    Morallity and values don’t enter into it. It’s about money, which seems to be the motivating factor behind all corporate activity and most government activity. Values and morals only get rolled out as PR.

  5. Joe says:

    American companies can either be part of the economy in China or not. In the long run it will only help if China has greater integration into world trade. And search technologies are going to be a key contributor to revolution (using the term loosely, perhaps just social change) in China. Think about it, search companies organizes and make available the worlds information, do we really want them frozen out by politics now when in a couple of years that will no longer be possible?

    And let us not completely ignore the fact that things are changing there. The best spread I have seen is a Business Week on China and India, a double issue out perhaps only three weeks ago. Workers are organizing, pay is increasing and conditions are improving. This is because technology is allowing transparency and transparency coupled with any amount of capitalism (which let’s not kid our self’s, there is a lot of money to be made and with that efficiencies are realized) we begin to see that invisible hand we all know and love.

    So yes we cannot stand on our soapboxes right now and demand overnight revolution (It took sometime for us to get all of our workers the rights that we have here), but we can help where possible by giving the Chinese people the tools that will eventually make it impossible for the government to keep the country behind the great fire wall of China.

    Finally while it should be a lesser issue, we (American companies) should not simply want to be involved because of a simple thing like Chinese market potential. We NEED to be involved because they are going to be a global player that our best and brightest companies are going to have to compete with all over the world including here. And if we are not careful to take every opportunity to grow in their market now then 20-30 years from now roles might be reversed and a group of bright Chinese people having a conversation on a insightful blog (or what ever they will call it then) will be discussing whether their largest companies should be bending to laws in the U.S. they find distasteful.

  6. Joe says:

    American companies can either be part of the economy in China or not. In the long run it will only help if China has greater integration into world trade. And search technologies are going to be a key contributor to revolution (using the term loosely, perhaps just social change) in China. Think about it, search companies organizes and make available the worlds information, do we really want them frozen out by politics now when in a couple of years that will no longer be possible?

    And let us not completely ignore the fact that things are changing there. The best spread I have seen is a Business Week on China and India, a double issue out perhaps only three weeks ago. Workers are organizing, pay is increasing and conditions are improving. This is because technology is allowing transparency and transparency coupled with any amount of capitalism (which let’s not kid our self’s, there is a lot of money to be made and with that efficiencies are realized) we begin to see that invisible hand we all know and love.

    So yes we cannot stand on our soapboxes right now and demand overnight revolution (It took sometime for us to get all of our workers the rights that we have here), but we can help where possible by giving the Chinese people the tools that will eventually make it impossible for the government to keep the country behind the great fire wall of China.

    Finally while it should be a lesser issue, we (American companies) should not simply want to be involved because of a simple thing like Chinese market potential. We NEED to be involved because they are going to be a global player that our best and brightest companies are going to have to compete with all over the world including here. And if we are not careful to take every opportunity to grow in their market now then 20-30 years from now roles might be reversed and a group of bright Chinese people having a conversation on a insightful blog (or what ever they will call it then) will be discussing whether their largest companies should be bending to laws in the U.S. they find distasteful.

  7. Skin says:

    Regardless of “American Values”, China’s track record on human rights is terrible, and in a case that could directly involve the rights of an individual, Yahoo should have taken the high road and refused to get involved. I highly doubt this action would have meant the end of their business in China.

    A greater integration into the world market could certainly help conditions in China, but this end does not justify the means of making questioable ethical decisions in the here-and-now.

  8. mc1 says:

    I absolutely agree Yahoo can say something about it as well as try to shape their policy both according to their beliefs and their financial interests. This story about Yahoo and the Journalist made the front page of a major Hong Kong newspaper (btw I live in Hong Kong) because it was a big deal. Users in China also care about their privacy whether they stand up on a soapbox to say it or not.

    Yahoo or other American companies can’t always play it safe because issues like freedom of the press will continue to come up.