U.S. technology giants Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, in talks with other Internet companies and human-rights groups, have reached an agreement on a voluntary code of conduct for activities in China and other restrictive countries, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
In separate letters sent to Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the companies said the code’s details were being worked out, the paper reported.
The two lawmakers had asked for an update out of concern that without such a code, Internet companies could be pressured by China’s government to provide information about Internet users who are in China for the Olympics, the paper said.
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The voluntary code will spell out “principles of freedom of expression and privacy” in countries where governments seek users’ private information or block access to certain Web sites, the paper said, citing the letters.
The code will be completed later this year, the paper reported.
Friday, during its annual shareholder meeting, Yahoo defended its recent actions in dealing with Chinese authorities.
The portal had been earlier targeted by lawmakers on charges of assisting the Chinese government to track down and jail a dissident. The company later reached a settlement with the jailed citizen’s family.
During Friday’s meeting, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) CEO Jerry Yang insisted during the meeting that the company has worked to improve its human rights policies.
“I think Yahoo is a leader in Internet human rights efforts,” he said at the meeting. “We’ve done right with the families and I’ve been personally involved.”
Yang also said Yahoo has condemned the Chinese government for its tight controls on its citizens’ Internet access and has set up a fund for online and offline human rights abuses in China.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) have also come under fire for some of their activities. In 2006, Microsoft shut down the blog of a journalist in response to a request by Chinese authorities, and the portals also have been accused of censoring search terms in results for Chinese users.