RealTime IT News

Amnesty Int'l Slams Tech Giants Over Censorship

Human rights group Amnesty International said that Yahoo , Google , Microsoft and other firms doing business in China have helped the repressive government censor and locate dissidents.

The group asked companies and Internet users to sign a pledge to respect Internet freedom.

"Internet companies often claim to be ethically responsible –- these pledges will highlight how their cooperation in repression risks making them complicit in human rights abuses and damages their credibility," according to a statement.

Amnesty International named Sun Microsystems , Cisco Systems , Yahoo and Google as companies they said helped governments censor the Internet or track citizens.

"The Internet's potential for change is being undermined –- by governments unwilling to tolerate this free media outlet, and by companies willing to help them repress free speech," according to the organization.

In a report entitled "Undermining Freedom of Expression in China," Amnesty International concentrates on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

"All three companies have, in one way or another, facilitated or colluded in the practice of censorship in China."

The group recommended the companies be more public in how they deal with the Chinese government, show more leadership in promoting human rights and exhaust all alternatives before agreeing to government demands.

The report blasts the three companies for allowing business opportunities to trump their own promises made to employees and customers. The advocacy group writes companies must "act in accordance with international human rights norms."

Yahoo said it is "deeply concerned about this issue and we are pursing a number of initiatives as part of our ongoing commitment to preserving the open availability of the Internet around the world," according to an e-mailed statement.

"We believe we can make more of a difference by having even a limited presence and growing our influence, than we can by not operating in a particular country at all," Yahoo said.

"Google respects the fact that people and organizations, including Amnesty, oppose our decision to launch a search service in China," according to a Google spokesperson.

In a statement, the company said that Google.cn already discloses to users when information has been removed from its search results in response to local laws and regulations.

"We believe this provides some additional transparency and is a step in the right direction," the statement continued.

Google said it has decided not to offer services where it cannot guarantee the privacy of users, such as blogging and e-mail.

"We believe in freedom for users to connect to the people and information that is important to them, but Microsoft will continue to comply with local laws of the markets in which we do business," according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Microsoft did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

Amnesty International said it would present pledges to a November UN meeting on the future of the Internet.

This isn't the first time Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have faced charges they complied with censors.

In June, Reporters Without Borders charged China's Internet users were fighting a technological war against censorship after China tightened restrictions on accessing Google's international site. The move left a censored version of Google, Google.cn, as the only unblocked alternative.

After defending its actions in China, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told reporters in June the company compromised its principles when it agreed to China's censorship demands, according to the Associated Press.

Likewise, the France-based Reporters Without Borders claimed Yahoo assisted the China government in locating and identifying dissidents later found guilty and sentenced to prison. The company has said being in China promotes openness and reform.