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.

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