Sorry is the hardest word

Yahoo! finally comes (nearly) clean:

A top executive at Yahoo Inc. has apologized for failing to inform U.S. lawmakers about the circumstances under which the Internet company gave the Chinese government information on one of its users.

Michael Callahan, executive vice president and general counsel at Yahoo, told a House Foreign Relations panel in February 2006 that the company passed information to the Chinese government in 2004 about one of its users without knowledge of why the request was being made. That user, Chinese journalist Shi Tao, was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison for divulging state secrets.

Yahoo has since said the Chinese government did tell the company why it made the request, and that the information about Tao was still handed over.

In a statement released Thursday, Callahan said he learned of the reason for the Chinese government’s request months after testifying before lawmakers but failed to notify them.

“I neglected to directly alert the committee of this new information, and that oversight led to a misunderstanding that I deeply regret and have apologized to the committee for creating,” Callahan said.

This is an encouraging start from a company that is not particularly liked in China. During my recent travels to Shanghai and Beijing, many Chinese web-users told me that Yahoo! was always too keen to sell its soul to the Chinese government (not that Google, for example, is acting very purely.)

The reasons behind Yahoo!’s capitulation is fairly obvious – profit before principle – but China web-watcher Rebecca MacKinnon points out that this is merely the beginning of a long road to making Western multinationals more accountable in China (and with Facebook soon arriving, get ready for more censorship.)

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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