November 14, 2007 |
It looks like Yahoo! finally "caved" in the lawsuit alleging that the Internet company cooperated with China in prosecuting dissidents. Yahoo! took a lot of heat for helping the authoritarian government earlier this year. The plaintiffs, Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao, have agreed to withdraw their complaint in U.S federal court in California. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but since the congressional grilling and apology from Yahoo! – it appears the lawsuit was settled once public dismay entered the courtroom.
The suit was brought to the forefront by the Washington based World Organization for Human Rights who maintained that Yahoo! benefited financially in working with Chinese authorities. Yahoo and Google have been in "it" up to their necks since entering China's Internet market from censorship issues to hardball jockeying for position in the world's second largest Web market. The advocacy group told Reuters that Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang basically bowed to criticism at the Congressional hearings and elsewhere.
Tom Santos, Democratic Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, railed Yahoo and Yang at the hearings. Santos called Yahoo! essentially "moral pygmies" as Yang testified before the committee. Santos was also quoted immediately following the settlement news: "It took a tongue-lashing from Congress before these high-tech titans did the right thing," the politician said, adding, "What a disgrace." Indeed, I say. We should expect more from these companies than just admitting a wrong when forced, but in today's corporate world of lawsuits and lawyers what can we really expect.
Yahoo also told Reuters that it has set up a humanitarian relief fund to support other dissidents and that is trying to give humanitarian and legal support to the detainees as well. Yang also said that Yahoo is committed to making their actions and Yahoo's values one in the same worldwide and that it is clear to him that making this right was essential for the dissidents and Yahoo. News of the ill treatment of the imprisoned dissidents fueled public outrage.
Yahoo has a fairly large stake in China's e-commerce firm Alibaba.com – and just like Google – Yahoo has its sights set on the huge revenues from the Chinese market now and in the future. It seems fairly obvious that Yahoo was simply posturing with China's regime in order to promote their market position there. Unfortunately for the dissidents, Yahoo's cooperation cost them 10 years in a prison system that is not opposed to torture and inhuman treatment. To be honest, I find even this settlement disgusting considering what we are supposed to stand for here in the U.S.
I have been on Google and Yahoo's case for some time with regard to their international ventures. Sometimes their actions go way beyond being even ethnocentric in nature, as the corporate dogma turns more and more toward arrogance and indifference to the individual. Seriously, what did even their lawyers think was going to happen once this hit the fan? Admitting the cookies are gone from the jar only when someone goes for a cookie is not exactly honorable behavior in individual or corporate terms in my view. At least something good did happen for the Chinese dissidents, though it took more than moral conscience to put it in play.
Jerry Yang at the hearings – photo courtesy of Reuters