Home Censorship: Yahoo, Microsoft, Google Agree on Code of Conduct

Censorship: Yahoo, Microsoft, Google Agree on Code of Conduct

With the start of the Olympics in Beijing being only a few days away, a lot of focus in the technology blogosphere has been on the restrictions put on Chinese Internet users by the Chinese government and the role of major US Internet companies in this. According to US Senator Dick Durbin, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are close to agreeing on a code of conduct that would govern how these companies would operate in restrictive environments like China.

According to letters send by the three companies to Durbin’s office, the companies will announce the details of this code of conduct later this year. Besides the three American companies, Vodafone and France Telecom also joined in the efforts to create this code.

The letters sent to Durbin are not very concrete in their description of the code, though they all stress the following three core components:

Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy that provide direction and guidance to the ICT industry and its stakeholders in protecting and advancing the enjoyment of freedom of expression and privacy globally. The Principles describe key commitments in the following areas: Freedom of Expression; Privacy; Responsible Company Decision Making; Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration; Governance, Accountability, Transparency.

Implementation Guidelines that provide further details on how participating companies will put the Principles into practice. The Implementation Guidelines describe a set of actions which constitute compliance with the Principles and provide companies with guidance on how to implement the Principles.

A Governance, Accountability and Learning Framework founded on the notion that an organizational and multi-stakeholder governance structure is required to support the Principles and that participating companies should be held accountable for their role in the implementation of the Principles through a system of independent assessment.

All three companies also stress that this code could potentially have far-reaching effects on their operations in countries like China and that they have already established internal rules for how to deal with these issues.

During the Olympics, even journalists will not be allowed to access the full and open Internet, thanks to an agreement between the IOC and China, though China eased at least some of these restrictions after the first reports on this.

As Jim Puzzanghera notes in the LA Times, Yahoo especially has been criticized heavily for the way it handled the case of journalist Shi Tao in 2006. At that time, Yahoo revealed his identity as being linked to a Yahoo e-mail address after being pressured by Chinese officials. Shi Tao was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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