Thursday, November 15, 2007

Yahoo tries to settle

As ever, I can start this posting with the words, the British MSM may have paid little attention to it but we have written before about ….. Fill in your own story. In this case, it is the story of Yahoo in China. We have written about it on numerous occasions, most recently here and here.

News comes that Yahoo has agreed on an out of court settlement with the families of Chinese journalists, whose imprisonment they had facilitated.
Yahoo promised to pay the families' legal bills and to create a fund to "provide support to other political dissidents and their families," but the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company wouldn't disclose other details of the agreement.
Sounds fine, though there is an interesting reason as to why Yahoo has decided to negotiate a settlement and it is not just their much-vaunted belief “in the transformative power of the Internet”.

The families filed a suit in April, as we reported at the time. But what really upset those self-righteous Yahoo executives was the Congressional hearings last week.
But it was not until after congressional hearings last week that the company engaged in settlement talks, said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, which represented the families.

"It took a tongue-lashing from Congress before these high-tech titans did the right thing and coughed up some concrete assistance for the family of a journalist who Yahoo had helped send to jail," Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) said Tuesday. "What a disgrace."

Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Yahoo executives that "morally you are pygmies" during his committee's hearings. He said the settlement did little to ensure that Yahoo and other U.S. Internet companies would abide by international human-rights standards when they operated abroad.

Lantos said he and other lawmakers would continue to push for legislation making it a crime for Internet companies to give personal information about their users to governments that use it to suppress dissent.
Such a legislation may well come in useful here if certain Italian proposals (and here) do go through, not that we think even for one moment that they will. On a more serious note, I doubt very much whether such legislation will go through and if it does whether it, in itself, will have any effect.

The point is that internet providers, website and blog hosts know that it is not in their interest to provide information about their users to anybody. In fact, there has been a good deal of grandstanding in the past about Google and Yahoo standing up to the terrifying might of the American government, for both to fold as soon as the Chinese government started demanding serious concessions.

No amount of legislation will overcome that as each and every culprit will be able to whine about having to compete with other companies. All we can hope for is that a public tongue-lashing and a subsequent need to pay out large (as I sincerely hope) amounts of money will keep Yahoo on the straight and narrow with others like Google watching developments uneasily.

Incidentally, if you do believe in Google’s self-description as being purer than pure as far political bias is concerned, try googling some stories that Little Green Footballs or Michelle Malkin, two of the most frequently visited sites, have covered. Guess how many links you will get. A nice round number. And yet LGF has been known to break stories as has Michelle. You do get plenty of references to them from various left-wing blogs, though.

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