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Yahoo, privacy and the state in China

Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 9:03 AM by Andrew Chadwick

The New York Times reports on the story of a Chinese dissident whose Yahoo email account was probably surrendered to the authorities by the US-based company as part of an investigation last year. I say 'probably' because Yahoo are refusing to comment. An interesting case because it reveals the conflict between the commercial imperatives faced by the likes of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft (not wanting to damage their prospects in a potentially lucrative market) and those companies' origins in western societies with established liberal traditions regarding individual privacy and freedom of speech. This illustrates a broader point, which is that it may be perfectly possible for China and other countries to operate a 'walled garden' approach to the net. They may be able to control its political side-effects, while benefitting from its economic gains. Indeed, I refereed an interesting paper on this very subject a few weeks back.

See also the excellent book: Kalathil, S. and Boas, T. C. (2003) Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC).

Update: George Monbiot quotes from an article in the Calgary Herald (which I couldn't track down) about keyword filtering on MSN China:

'If Chinese users of Microsoft’s internet service MSN try to send a message containing the words "democracy", "liberty" or "human rights", they are warned that "This message includes forbidden language. Please delete the prohibited expression."

Edited on: Thu, Sep 15, 2005 9:51 AM

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