The Yahoo! Holdings controversy
In April 2005, Shi Tao, a journalist working for a Chinese newspaper, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court of Hunan Province, China (First trial case no 29), for “providing state secrets to foreign entities”. He had passed details of a censorship order to the Asia Democracy Forum and the website Democracy News. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) investigated the case, specifically the ease with which Mr Shi had been caught. He had sent the message through an anonymous Yahoo! account. But police had gone straight to his offices and picked him up. RSF later obtained a translation of the verdict which stated that Mr Shi’s account information, telephone number and address were “furnished by Yahoo! Holdings”.
Criticism of Yahoo! intensified when Reporters Without Borders claimed translated court documents proved the company aided Chinese authorities in the case of dissident Li Zhi. In December 2003 Li Zhi was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for “inciting subversion”.
In recent months Yahoo! has also followed the directive of United States government officials in turning over information which the United States deems as key for continuing its global war on terror. Yahoo! contends it must respect the laws of governments in jurisdictions where it is operating.
In February 2006, Yahoo! also announced their decision (along with AOL) to give users the option to “certify” outgoing mail. That is, by paying up to one cent for each outgoing mail, allowing the mail in question to avoid spam filters. This decision is opposed by people that claim it to be a “tax on speech”, which would eventually restrict freedom of speech as companies implementing similar decision would be tempted to increase the amount of mail classified as spam in order to encourage users to pay, preventing non-profit organizations to freely communicate with their members, among other things. However a large number of non-profit organisations, such as the Red Cross have signed up to the program.
Yahoo! Mail user name bans
On February 20, 2006, it was revealed that Yahoo! Mail is banning the word “allah” in e-mail user names, both separate and as part of a user name such as linda.callahan. Surprisingly, other religiously loaded words such as “jesus”, “mohammad”, and even “satan” are not banned. Neither are many other offensive words. Since Yahoo! is giving the impression they are selectively banning this particular word for “God” frequently used by Arabs among muslims, christians, and jews, along with “osama” among few other banned words, they have been raising voices about generalizing Arabs to be terrorists . Shortly after the news of the “allah” ban became widespread in media, it was lifted in February 23, 2006. Along with this action, Yahoo! also spoke up on this issue:
- “We continuously evaluate abuse patterns in registration usernames to help prevent spam, fraud and other inappropriate behavior. A small number of people registered for IDs using specific terms with the sole purpose of promoting hate, and then used those IDs to post content that was harmful or threatening to others, thus violating Yahoo!’s Terms of Service.
- ‘Allah’ was one word being used for these purposes, with instances tied to defamatory language. We took steps to help protect our users by prohibiting use of the term in Yahoo! usernames. We recently re-evaluated the term ‘Allah’ and users can now register for IDs with this word because it is no longer a significant target for abuse. We regularly evaluate this type of activity and will continue to make adjustments to our registration process to help foster a positive customer experience.”
Chatrooms and message boards
Due to fears of preying on underage children, the Yahoo! “user created” chatrooms were closed down in 2005. However, Yahoo!’s messsage boards were not, as they are notorious for open trolling, flaming, racism, and general rudeness. The message boards are self-moderated; the only official channel for involving Yahoo! personnel is through a complaint form which seems to have limited utility.
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