Adriana, who knows a thing or two about the reality of living in a repressive regime, points out that doing business in a place in China is not a morally unambiguous matter and asked
[D]id anyone call for a boycott of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola companies during the Cold War? I remember the drinks in their distinctive bottles that put some fizz into my rather gloomy childhood under communism.
I guess my answer is that I have no problem with selling Coca Cola to communist states, after all it is communism’s hapless victim for the most part who will be drinking it. Also trade itself can be wonderfully subversive… but what Yahoo is doing is analogous to Coca Cola agreeing to embed a recording device in each bottle so that the state can hear what each person is talking about whilst they sip their drink…ie, not just trading with tyrants but actually collaborating with the repression of their subject peoples. That is what Yahoo (and Cisco, Oracle and their ilk) are indeed doing.
And that I rather do have a problem with.
However please do not think I want just Yahoo singled out. As Adriana said, Cisco thought nothing of installing the telecom architecture to enable the Chinese Panopticon approach to the Internet. Whenever companies do business with those who would abridge our liberties, they rarely do so for reasons of sheer malevolence but rather due to the cost-benefit to shareholders of working in such regions of the world (though Oracle chief Larry Elison does like to hold up pro-fascist Napoleon as a paragon of virtue so in his case who knows).
My view is that not just Yahoo but Cisco, Oracle and anyone else who wants to get rich selling the apparatus of repression should be given to understand when they make their utilitarian business decisions that part of the cost will be people who see the world in more moral terms taking their business elsewhere. Do not underestimate the value to a company of its corporate image:
‘Cisco and Yahoo, Big Satan and Little Satan: international partners in repression’
…is not the sort of meme these guys want in circulation as it is just not good for business, and that is why I support noisy boycotts which involve saying things that people in boardrooms do not want to hear.