Depending on your worldview, a rather depressing piece of news slipped out the other week. At Yahoo’s annual general meeting, a proposal was tabled to oppose online censorship and set up a ‘human rights committee’ which would monitor the company’s policies around the world, particularly in China.
However, Yahoo’s shareholders comprehensively rejected the proposal, with only 4% backing the idea of a committee.
The Independent, the only UK broadsheet to pick up on the story, reported the following pearl from Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder and new boss:
In a presentation that drew a round of applause from shareholders, Mr Yang said the private sector alone could not change the attitudes of repressive regimes, but insisted: "Yahoo! is committed to protecting human rights globally."
The temptation to respond “yeah, right…” is almost overwhelming.
It’s difficult to know how to take this type of story. On the one hand, it’s easy to be shocked by the apparent hypocrisy and cynicism on display here. On the other, it’s equally as easy to shrug shoulders and say “so what’s new?”
While the internet is still regarded in certain quarters eg. the blogosphere, as being some kind of utopian global community, and Google still desperately clings to its ‘do no evil’ credo, the fact is that corporate interests dominate the web just as much as the real world.
Of course, it’d be nice to think that such a stark illustration of internet business being red in tooth and claw would cause outraged web consumers to vote with their clicking fingers and migrate to a more ‘ethical’ service provider – but somehow I doubt this will be the case. We might like to believe we’re living in some kind of hyper-connected global village, but at the end of the day, those guys in China, you know, well, they do things differently over there, it’s not my problem, mate…
Yeah, well, it should be.
Turning over political dissidents’ emails in order for them to be prosecuted, imprisoned, and goodness knows what else isn’t something that companies like Yahoo should be allowed to just brush under the corporate carpet. Because frankly, if we don’t get angry about this type of web censorship and data abuse soon, it could turn out to be the thin end of a very big wedge indeed…