Statement on the Internet & Human Rights
Yahoo! Stockholder Meeting
June 12, 2007
We at Yahoo! understand how important this issue around Internet freedom and human
right has become. I wanted to take this opportunity to share Yahoo!'s progress and some
of our thoughts on the subject.
Yahoo! is committed to protecting human rights globally. When David Filo and I
founded this company, we wanted to expand access to information to improve people’s
lives. Yahoo!’s goals have evolved, but they remain grounded in that original idea, and
today our mission is to connect people to their passions, their communities and the
Global progress in the Internet and media industries depends in significant part on
political systems in which access to information and idea exchanges can flourish. We
remain deeply concerned about governments that imprison their own citizens for
exchanging ideas and expressing political views, especially online. Yahoo! condemns
these actions. We join the global Internet community in calling for the release of those
imprisoned for expressing their political views online, in particular in places like China.
We’ve expressed those views to the Chinese government and to the U.S. government.
Over the past year, we’ve met with the U.S. government and outside experts in this field,
including as recently as last week when I was with some senior officials at the State
Department on the topic of Internet censorship and political dissidents and to ask for the
U.S. government’s help.
The presence of companies like Yahoo! in markets abroad can have a transformative
effect on peoples’ lives and on local and national economies. Access to information,
especially through the Internet, has changed what people know about the world around
them and about events, people, and issues that directly impact their lives day-to-day.
When Yahoo! China launched in 1999, the Internet landscape was significantly different
than in 2005 when we sold the Yahoo! China operations and business to a local Chinese
company called Alibaba.
We understand Yahoo! Inc.’s responsibility to remain engaged around freedom of
expression on the Internet, and we’ll continue to be a leader. But, private industry alone
can’t effectively influence foreign government policies on issues like the free exchange
of ideas, open access to information, and political dissidents. Because agencies such as
the State Department, as well as other governmental organizations, have the most
leverage in this area – through trade, diplomatic, and other tools – continued government-
to-government dialogue in a bilateral and multilateral forum is vital to achieve progress
on these complex political and human rights issues.
But I want to reiterate that any company doing business in any country must respect the
laws of that country, including those laws that allow police forces to investigate crimes.
Failure to respect those laws can mean employees in the country could face severe
sanctions, including criminal penalties. In our industry in particular, the relationship with
law enforcement is more complex than commonly understood. In most countries,
including China, companies have no right or means to learn the details of what crime is
under investigation and we will rarely know the name or occupation of the person
connected to a user ID. What we do know is that Yahoo! operating companies inside and
outside the United States protect user privacy through rigorous compliance practices and
strict adherence to the law governing demands for user information.
Let me describe to you some of the concrete steps we’ve taken independently as a
company and then also in working with our industry peers and also with human rights
groups and others.
In February 2006 we made the following four public commitments:
First, Collective Action. Yahoo! will continue to work with industry, government,
academia and non-governmental organizations (or NGOs) to explore policies to guide
industry practices in countries where content is treated more restrictively than that in the
United States and to promote the principles of freedom of speech and expression.
Second, Compliance Practices. Yahoo! continues to employ rigorous protections under
applicable laws in response to government requests for information, maintaining its
commitment to user privacy and compliance with the law.
Third, Information Restrictions. Where a government requests that Yahoo! restrict
search results, Yahoo! does so if required by applicable law and only in a way that
impacts the results as narrowly as possible. If Yahoo! is required to restrict search
results, we strive to achieve maximum transparency to the user.
And fourth, Government Engagement. Yahoo! continues to engage actively in ongoing
policy dialogue with governments around the world with respect to the nature of the
Internet and the free flow of information.
Since making those four public commitments more than a year ago, we’ve consistently
acted on them. In the last year we established a cross-functional team of senior Yahoo!
employees worldwide to coordinate our efforts to address privacy and freedom of
expression issues. This team consists of Yahoo! employees from a variety of disciplines
and departments, including our legal department, public and government relations,
privacy, community affairs, global law enforcement and compliance, security, emerging
markets and our international operations.
Members of the team also consult with U.S. government agencies, like the State
Department, and outside professionals in the field, including experts at academic
institutions. This team, learning from our experiences in China, also conducted a formal
human rights assessment of the impact of new products and market-entry plans,
designing strategies that limit risks around challenges to freedom of expression and
privacy in new markets.
We’ve also supported independent research on these tough human rights issues. Last
year Yahoo! funded a $1 million Knight fellowship at Stanford University to bring in
journalists from countries where press freedoms are limited. The first journalist was from
Pakistan, and next year’s Yahoo! Fellow will come from Zimbabwe. We also funded a
$1 million Yahoo! international fellowship on global values and technology at
Georgetown University, and the first Yahoo! Fellow will arrive this fall in Washington,
Also, Yahoo!, as a shareholder of Alibaba, and I in my capacity as a board member, have
raised these important issues repeatedly and encouraged Alibaba to seriously consider
acting on them. As an example of transparency with users and operational change,
Yahoo! China Search has, since July 2006, included a notice that certain terms may be
screened pursuant to Chinese law, and Yahoo! China mail product, since September
2006, has included a notice indicating that the service is subject to Chinese law.
Responding to threats to freedom of expression and privacy globally also requires us not
just working with ourselves but with other stakeholders. At Yahoo!, we’re fully
committed. We’re actively engaged in a formal dialogue co-facilitated by two non-
profits — Business for Social Responsibility in San Francisco and the Center for
Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C. This is a formal process to design an
industry code of conduct with other leading global Internet companies and technology
and communications companies. We’re also working closely with various NGO’s,
including the most prominent human rights groups. Also included in this formal group
are academics and socially responsible investors. We’re all focused on protecting and
promoting free expression and privacy on the Internet.
This diverse group has made a public commitment to creating a set of global principles
and operating procedures on freedom of expression and privacy to guide company
behavior when faced with laws, regulations, and policies that interfere with human
rights. The group’s goals also include creating an implementation, accountability and
governance framework, as well as a forum for sharing ideas. The collective commitment
is to complete the code of conduct by the end of this year.
The State Department’s engagement and support through their own global initiatives,
including a Global Internet Freedom Taskforce or GIFT announced in February 2006,
reinforces our belief that we’re moving in the right direction on behalf of the global
community of Internet users. Recently the issue of Internet freedom and cyber-
dissidence has been raised with the highest levels in China and we applaud that effort.
The positive partnership formed between companies, human rights groups, socially
responsible investors, and academics makes us cautiously optimistic about the
development of guiding principles and operational standards, for companies in our sector
We continue to believe in engagement in markets like China. Why? Today, despite broad
limitations on sensitive political subjects, Chinese citizens know more than ever before
about local public health issues, environmental causes, politics, corruption, consumer
choice, job opportunities, and even some foreign affairs. They communicate and interact
like never before with family, friends, neighbors, and people locally, regionally, and even
globally And the Internet drives innovation across sectors, including in science,
medicine, business, and journalism just to name a few.
Access to information provides citizens with more freedom in how they live, work,
exchange ideas, and make choices impacting their daily lives. Information is a powerful
tool for change and progress in the hands of Internet users globally. Information is
empowering in both ordinary and extraordinary ways. It can be disruptive or even
revolutionary. It’s the single greatest reason certain governments fear open use of the
Internet and the free flow of information.
The idea David and I had when we started Yahoo! was to expand access to information
and improve people’s lives by opening channels for people to learn, explore, connect, and
share. Let me make something clear. We have heard the concerns about restrictions on
freedom of expression globally. We the employees and executive team at Yahoo! are
dismayed and distressed by the impact of people imprisoned in China and around the
world. We have been and will continue to be actively engaged for the long-term. This is
an issue that will not go away for us. As a company entering its teenage years now, with
hundreds of millions of users, and with the human stakes more challenging than ever, we
remain fully committed to protecting human rights in the business world’s most