Thursday, February 09, 2006

How to choose a search engine with great care

There was that time when internet companies were kind of cool, slightly leftfield places to work. They certainly weren't the kind of places you thought would be shopping you to the secret police.

How times have changed. Google tainted its cool and sold a bit of its soul after agreeing to block politically sensitive terms on its China site to guarantee it access to that market and now it looks like Yahoo! has been complicit in the jailing a second Chinese dissident.

  The search engine was already involved in helping one journalist get banged up last year, and now it seems it is at it again, providing evidence to the Chinese authorities that led to the imprisonment of an writer, lawyers and activists.

Yahoo!'s response is that it's just handing over data, which is a response straight out of that top seller "I was only following orders".

Worse news still, it looks like this second writer that has been jailed might not be the last. Media watchdog Reporters without Borders has asked Yahoo! to tell what else it has told Beijing, but the original web portal is not so forthcoming.

Reporters without Borders said: "The firm says it simply responds to requests from the authorities for data without ever knowing what it will be used for.

"But this argument no long holds water. Yahoo! certainly knew it was helping to arrest political dissidents and journalists, not just ordinary criminals."

With Yahoo! and Google both at it, others will be too. Any leftfield credentials these firms ever had are going up in smoke as principles are traded for profits, which seems to be the price you pay if you want to do business with China.

Firms like Yahoo!, Google and even Apple might have been held up by devoted fans as rebel corporations in the past, but they are just corporations at the end of the day. Interesting, fun and creative ones, but corporations all the same. Not, mind you, that I'm saying it’s a bad thing, but it would be nice if they didn't come kicking your door in. Virtually at least.

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