Sadly, Yahoo! is no stranger to morally questionable business decisions relating to their dealings with the Chinese government. Now, in the wake of the most recent lawsuit alleging that Yahoo gave up emails to Chinese authorities (which Yahoo apparently does not dispute) that resulted in a dissident’s arrest, imprisonment and torture, we find this utterly flabbergasting defense of Yahoo’s behavior from Yahoo’s spokesman Jim Cullinan: “The Chinese judicial system is not transparent such as the U.S. system, therefore you don’t know really what’s happening.” I actually saw Cullinan deliver this nonsense on Channel 7 here in the Bay Area, and it isn’t easy to surprise a New Yorker, but I was stunned.
Does Yahoo think that we’re all idiots? This defense is, in a word, outrageous. Aside from suggesting that Yahoo could not anticipate how the Chinese government would deal with a dissident (to link to examples would be a waste of electrons and energy; no hyperlink is necessary), the very fact that the system is not transparent is precisely why such information should never be turned over. Am I shocked that a US corporation would do business in China, even to the point of playing ball with a brutal regime? Of course not. But I hope for better. And I don’t think that this is the “engagement” that we want if this form of public diplomacy is a euphemism for aiding the very elements of a government that engagement is supposed to alter.
To that end, I was hoping that Yahoo might learn from previous criticism of its behavior. But, as Cullinan’s defense reveals, I was wrong. I do use Yahoo’s services, and have even paid for some. Unless there is significant change in their positions, both on the ground and in words, I am done giving Yahoo money. I will likely use what I have already paid for, and that’s it. Migration to other platforms is, in the context of a business willing to stoop to these levels, perhaps the only way that I can hope to influence change in such an atmosphere.
Yahoo should be ashamed; but it appears that it is not. But, if interested (or indeed, if I am wrong, and I hope that I am), I invite a spokesperson from Yahoo on Hearsay Culture to explain just what is happening inside Yahoo.