Shame on Yahoo

>     During the period between 2002-2004, two Chinese pro-democracy dissidents named Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao used Yahoo’s message boards to post information about China’s persecution of pro-democracy activists. The Chinese government asked Yahoo to provide the IP addresses and e-mail accounts on the postings and Yahoo complied. The two dissidents were arrested and Shi is now spending 10 years in a Chinese dungeon for his views and actions in creating the postings. Yahoo, when asked by Congressional investigators why they provided the information stated that 1) they had to comply with local law and 2) at the time Yahoo turned over the information they did not know the nature of the investigation. It turns out that a later published version of the Chinese government’s request indicated that the basis for the request and the focus of the investigation was clear at the time Yahoo complied.
    Yahoo representatives, it seems, lied to Congress.
    Now there’s a shock. 
    Congressional hearings commenced yesterday on Yahoo’s behavior. Twelve lawyers representing Yahoo prepared one lawyer, Michael Callahan (Yahoo’s Executive V.P. and General Counsel), to testify  before Congress regarding the incident. Mr. Callahan called Yahoo’s failure to honestly admit to what it had known a “misunderstanding” and said it “did not occur” to Yahoo to bring the “new information” to Congress.
As a former practicing attorney, I am often proud of the determination
and creativity I periodically see in the practice of law by fellow
lawyers. I am equally perplexed and ashamed by the dishonesty and
stupidity I periodically see as well.
    Let’s take it one Yahoo excuse at a time.
    First, Yahoo said it did not know the nature of the investigation when it turned over the requested information. Since a later disclosure and translation of the request document itself by the human rights group Dui Hua clearly showed this to be untrue, we are faced with the willful and knowing intention by Yahoo executives to lie.
    For profit. Surely that is what this is all about. Yahoo wanted and still wants to be in on the booming Chinese internet market and weighed it’s integrity against it’s bottom line and integrity came up light. Surely there’s enough profit in Yahoo that it did not need to proceed in this way at this time. Or maybe not. Maybe what my dear friend Ruth used to say about human frailty is true: “More is never enough.” If that’s the case, and it’s also the sole motivator for Yahoo’s corporate mission (regardless of what they say the mission is) then we cannot rely on their corporate integrity.
    Secondly, as to Yahoo’s having to “comply with local law”…well, this is where I’d have preferred those thirteen lawyers to have risen to the occasion rather than acquiesced to it. Surely thirteen U.S. educated, bright, legal minds could have used the energy they used to deceive Congress to instead come up with a rationale for the Chinese government as to why they could not have turned over the requested information.
    I think the lesson in all of this is that when we are motivated solely by our wallets without the benefit of guidance from our conscience we find it easy, and justifiable, to stray further and further from what is the highest good for all concerned.
    I used to be in business with a woman whose specialty is in the field of data mining. When this original story broke, she said “Yahoo probably complied with the Chinese government’s request because they wanted to continue to do business in China in the hopes of bringing Western ideas and democracy in through the internet. Shi was a small sacrifice for the higher good.”
    Nice spin…but I don’t think it works that way.   
    I think compromising your integrity on core principles and values is a very slippery slope.  When you justify decisions that make those compromises you just grease the slide.
    Perhaps Yahoo can take a lesson from my personal approach.
    Ever since I married 16 years ago, my husband always tries to suggest a vacation in Jamaica when we’re looking for a place to go. It’s sort of become a little family joke, but it’s none-the-less true. Whenever he mentions Jamaica and how lovely it is and how there’s a beautiful Sandals Resort there…I always respond with “I don’t vacation in a country that  doesn’t have a human rights policy.”
    Now I realize that limits where I will vacation and what I might see in this lifetime. But I like to vote with my wallet.
    Yahoo, are you listening?

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