Blame Yahoo!?

Many sources are reporting the story that Yahoo has helped the Chinese authorities to convict a journalist:

Internet giant Yahoo has been accused of supplying information to China which led to the jailing of a journalist for “divulging state secrets”. (Source)

This has led to a predictable outpouring of Yahoo-bashing across the internet.

However, is it fair to demonise Yahoo?

Reporters Without Borders, a French media watchdog, said court papers showed Yahoo’s Hong Kong arm gave investigators information that helped trace an email sent by Mr Tao. (Source)

If a British company were approached by a British police force requesting assistance in solving a crime, it would be difficult for the company to refuse to help. The Special Administrative Region notwithstanding, Hong Kong is part of China, and a company based there can hardly avoid co-operating with the authorities.

If you operate in a country, you have to obey local laws and regulations. In China, that includes strict controls on dissemination of information. Personally, I think that’s unfortunate, although I think I understand the reasons behind the policy.

Based on what I have read, I think that most complaints about companies “collaborating” with the Chinese authorities follow the logic that:

1. Censorship is bad.
2. Companies in China have to follow local regulations on censorship.
3. Therefore, setting up a company in China is bad.

However, everyone is doing business with China, and for good reason. It’s a large, growing economy, with a highly skilled but cheap workforce. That’s why a large proportion of goods available in the west are Made in China.

If you really think that the censorship trade-off involved in doing business in China is unacceptable and refuse to trade with China, fine. That’s an intellectually coherent position. But give up your cheap socks and electronics first. There’s more than a hint of hypocrisy about people sitting at their Made-in-China notebook computers writing about how evil Yahoo is for doing business there.