Yang: ‘Gray Areas’ Complicate Business Abroad

Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang, whose company helped identify a Chinese dissident who was later jailed, said on Thursday that legal “gray areas” overseas made doing business internationally difficult.

Yang, whose family emigrated from Taiwan when he was ten, called himself “a big believer in American values” but added: “As we operate around the world, we don’t have a heavy-handed American view.”

Different countries have different attitudes toward the Internet with some wanting major interventions and others preferring to leave the Web unfettered.

“We operate within these environments to the extent that the law has any clarity,” Yang told an event at Georgetown University, where Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) gave a $1 million gift to study the link between the Internet and international values.

“We think we’re hitting more gray areas than ever before. I don’t think it’s an easy question,” he said.

Yahoo was criticized for its role in helping the Chinese government identify Shi Tao, a reporter accused of leaking state secrets abroad. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in April 2007.

After the debacle, Yahoo sold its Yahoo China subsidiary to Chinese Internet company Alibaba.com in exchange for a 40 percent stake in Alibaba.

Yahoo said in late March that it was setting up a human-rights fund to help victims of government censorship. Harry Wu, a former political prisoner in China, will oversee the initiative. The company has declined to say how big the fund is.

In his remarks at the university, Yang detailed other humanitarian efforts that Yahoo had undertaken, including helping raise money for the American Red Cross in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s disastrous strike on New Orleans in 2005.

During his visit to Washington D.C., Yang also met with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a tough critic of China’s human rights policies. Both are Democrats from California.

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