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What’s the Matter with Yahoo?

A second person was jailed after Yahoo provided the Chinese government with information. Now, we ask, what’s next?
February 9, 2006

Over the last two weeks, Technology Review’s editorial staff has had some lively debates about Google, the role of search in the current digital landscape, and the effect international laws have on the perceptions of companies. The conversation started as Google moved ahead with its China strategy – but it’s impossible to have the discussion without talking about Yahoo.

The back-and-forth among our staffers was sometimes contentious because these three issues – as they’re tied together – don’t have a nice, neat bow. Out of those debates came, in my opinion, the most interesting series of stories we’ve done since the website’s relaunch on November 7. Those stories: Swayed in China, In Google We Trust, Evading the Google Eye, and Google: Beyond Good and Evil.

But the debates we have are largely theoretical, as journalism sometimes is. While we continue to debate the merits of how American search companies should function within the borders of other countries, real life plows ahead. Reuters has a story today detailing how a second Chinese citizen was arrested by his government after Yahoo turned over information on a journalist.

From the Reuters story:

Writer and veteran activist Liu Xiaobo said Yahoo had cooperated with Chinese police in a case that led to the 2003 arrest of Li Zhi, who was charged with subverting state power and sentenced to eight years in prison after trying to join the dissident China Democracy Party.

No doubt this latest incident will once again set off an intense – and inspired – debate. Thankfully, there are those wiser than me who decide how exactly an international company operating within the borders of a foreign country should operate. However, it’s clear that the issue of how we access information and who can access information about us – particularly with the continued digitization and mobilization of our world’s information – is becoming the most important issue of our time.

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