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Yahoo's Continuing Deliberate Blindness

Wall Street Journal: Yahoo Defends China Cooperation. Yahoo’s Terry Semel faced tough questions from Walt Mossberg — and the audience — over the search company’s decision to comply with requests for user data from the Chinese government, which has used the information to pursue dissidents.

I’m one of the audience members who asked Semel a question. He did not offer any kind of persuasive reply, because there’s no good way to defend his company’s cooperation with the Chinese authorities.

In my own question I channeled Berkman Center colleague Rebecca MacKinnon, who has appropriately noted that Yahoo “chose to provide an e-mail service hosted on servers based inside China, making itself subject to Chinese legal jurisdiction.” Semel’s answer was both evasive and condescending.

He pointed out that Yahoo put those servers there a while ago, and then said Yahoo’s China presence is controlled by a partner to which it sold a majority share there. This is trying to have it both ways, and it insults people’s intelligence; Yahoo’s name is on the service, after all.

Then he sniffily said his company could do more for human rights than a small NGO (I think he meant the Berkman Center, but I’m not sure). This would be true if Yahoo stopped being such a handmaiden to the dictators.

Semel was also downright misleading when asked about Yahoo’s willing cooperation with a U.S. government fishing expedition of search data — while Yahoo and Microsoft cooperated, Google responsibly did not. He said this data mining operation was about child pornography, and of course who’s going to object to going after child porn, right?

Well, as Salon‘s Scott Rosenberg pointed out, the case had zip to do with child porn. It was about the Child Online Protection Act, which was designed to keep kids away from legal adult sites.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing, Semel’s deceptions or his lack of preparation for questions he surely knew he’d be asked.

Still, to his credit, he showed up to face the questions. His competitors at Google refused. Shame on them.

5 Comments on “Yahoo's Continuing Deliberate Blindness”

  1. #1 Michael Gorsuch
    on Jun 1st, 2006 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks for this, Dan. I’m glad to see that somone out there really gives a damn and is willing to call this crap what it is.

    You’d think that they would at least try and make the case that they are hoping that by doing business with the Chinese government ‘freedom’ would begin spreading. Instead they say ‘we feel bad’.

    What a shame.

  2. #2 Ellis X
    on Jun 2nd, 2006 at 7:45 am

    The man who asked the question that compared Yahoo to South Africa, et al, is Freewebs COO Shervin Pishevar. China recently has blocked access to all sites on Freewebs.

  3. #3 Email Battles · Yahoo Boss Not Sure If He’d Collaborate With Nazis
    on Jun 3rd, 2006 at 9:50 am

    [...] That evasion is more than blogger Dan Gilmor can stand. Labeling Yahoo a handmaiden to the dictators, he fumes, “It insults people’s intelligence; Yahoo’s name is on the service, after all.” [...]

  4. #4 Andrew Lih » Blog Archive » Yahoo, China and personal data privacy
    on Jun 3rd, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    [...] Dan Gillmor has a good post at the Center for Citizen Media that further documents the inadequate response from Yahoo in the US about what is being done in its name in the PRC. He talks about Yahoo’s Terry Semel: In my own question I channeled Berkman Center colleague Rebecca MacKinnon, who has appropriately noted that Yahoo “chose to provide an e-mail service hosted on servers based inside China, making itself subject to Chinese legal jurisdiction.” Semel’s answer was both evasive and condescending. [...]

  5. #5 james wanless online » archives » Is market share worth freedom of speech?
    on Jun 9th, 2006 at 11:14 am

    [...] By way of the Center for Citizen Media, I caught this little piece. In it, Yahoo’s Terry Semel justifies his company’s cooperation with the Chinese government in turning over data. [...]