technology, whatnot

Secret Shame: why I don't use Yahoo

The recent talk of Microsoft buying out Yahoo! reminded me that I wanted to write a little about why I try to avoid companies like Yahoo! and why other people should do the same. Corporations are not known for their compassion, but companies like Yahoo! have (for a while now) taken dispassion to a new level.

A little over a year ago news broke about Yahoo! giving the Chinese government information to identify political dissidents. Now a dissident and his wife are suing Yahoo! for getting him arrested and beaten. His crime— distributing articles for democratic reform. An American company is helping stifle democracy, but even worse it is helping commit human rights violations. Why would any company want to do such a thing? What could possibly be so important that a company would willing help a government find someone to torture? Wouldn’t it be nice if the answer wasn’t obvious?

Yahoo! would like people believe it cares (it doesn’t), so its spokesperson reminds us all that

Companies doing business in China must comply with Chinese law or its local employees could be faced with civil and criminal penalties.

Which is of course a cop out, but the world has a way of suspending honest reflection in the present if it is beneficial, only to show remorse for an inability to see the whole picture until a later retrospective moment. Or to put it another way, we turn away from what we can change to focus on what we can not, because it helps us. If the cost of doing business in a country is to have people beaten then the cost is too high. If the cost is to do things that positively retard the possibility of positive change in the country that cost is too far high. Or at least it should be.

And to be fair though Yahoo! isn’t the only one, just one of the worst. Another contender is the new Chinese MySpace. A company owned by Rupert Murdoch, who paradoxically owns Fox News, a channel that claims to be passionate about exporting democracy to countries like Iraq. MySpace China actively censors political conversations and encourages people to report dissidents to the government. On MySpace China you can’t mention Democracy, an independent Taiwan, or the Dali Lama. Nor can you do anything that would harm the unity of the country, so watch out.

Even the folks at Google (the company that claims they “don’t [want to] be evil”) are willing to sell their humanity for prosperity in China, asking shareholders not to vote for a policy that say they won’t engage in “proactive censorship.”

Corporations and The Market are amoral and inhumane, but America doesn’t have to be. Clearly, there needs to be laws created to deal with these things. So long as it is profitable and semi-legal corporations will eagerly participate. Changing the way American companies do business in China can only be positive— ultimately business won’t be lost because the Chinese government wants China to be modern and global. If they can’t dictate how that happens they will still do business, because otherwise they won’t get anywhere as a participant in the global community. People argue that by playing their game we are opening doors, but it is painfully obvious that we aren’t opening doors, we are nailing down the windows.

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