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Yahoo Shareholders Nix Human Rights Motions

Although Yahoo has made much of its commitment to individual rights and freedom of expression in the online world, Yahoo shareholders have rejected two motions which would have set up a committee within the company to deal with human rights issues, along with a six-point anti-censorship proposal.

At the meeting of approximately 100 shareholders, a proposal from a Napa, California man that the company create a special Committee on Human Rights as part of the Yahoo Board of Directors was rejected. The proposed committee would have been charged with dealing with issues of free speech, expression, and censorship. According to the New York Times, but Yahoo’s management described the proposed committee and unnecessary and that the company already had policies in place to protect online rights and freedoms.

Yahoo shareholders also rejected a six-point anti-censorship proposal which advocated (among other things) that Yahoo note sore user data in countries which limited political speech, not engage in pro-active censorship, and that the company use all legal means to resist censorship requirements and disclose when censorship takes place. In arguing against the proposal, Yahoo management argued the requirements would restrict the company’s flexibility in dealing with legal requirements. The full text of the proposal can be viewed in Yahoo’s Schedule 14A SEC filings.

The rejection of anticensorship measures by Yahoo shareholders highlight the dilemma of online companies attempting to operate internationally, particularly in nations like China, which operates the world’s largest Internet monitoring and censorship regime. Yahoo has been repeatedly criticized for turning information on Yahoo account holder over to Chinese authorities; the information has been used as evidence at trials at which Chinese dissidents have been sentenced to prison. Yahoo is also being sued for its role in handing over information to Chinese authorities.

Yahoo maintains that while it decries censorship and restrictions on free speech, it must comply with laws in countries in which it operates. Yahoo’s willingness to comply with Chinese censorship practices doesn’t seem to be earning it many friends in the Chinese regime, though: Yahoo’s Hong Kong unit said earlier this week that the Beijing government is likely blocking access to the Yahoo-owned photo sharing site Flickr because it could be used to view images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

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