At What Price Freedom?

It’s already been reported that companies such as Microsoft and Google censor content of Internet users in China at the behest of the government there. Now comes a story of how Yahoo — which also allows its content to be censored — gave information about one of its users, a journalist, to the Chinese government that was used to convict him, according to news reports and court documents.

Shi Tao, 37, who works for Contemporary Business News, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting to Democracy Forum, a Chinese language Web site based in New York, a government document warning about potential activism on the 15th anniversary of the Tiannamen Square massacre. Here’s the Reporters Without Borders take.

“Just like any other global company,” read a statement in a New York Times article, “Yahoo must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.” Especially when you’ve just purchased a 40 percent stake for $1 billion in the Chinese e-commerce site I wonder how this all fits in with Yahoo’s self-proclaimed values.

To think that Yahoo, which was founded in a country that espouses freedom of the press, and whose stock and trade is the free flow of information, would give in to a repressive government, is disturbing, to say the least. There’s a higher moral imperative here that companies should demand of themselves, and, that users should demand, too. I leave you with this little nugget from Yahoo’s Guide to Business Conduct and Ethics: “If you wouldn’t want your action to appear in the media, it’s probably not the right thing to do.” Well, Yahoo, it’s in the media.