Thursday, February 16, 2006

China enters 21st century; new Gang of Four dragged before US Congress

And finally it happened. After some dragging of feet, feigning ignorance, and pretending busy agendas, the Internet Gang of Four (Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo) found themselves sitting in front of a Congressional Committee taking them to task for cooperating with human rights violations in China.

It was a ritual for four spokesbots and a howling herd of Congressional grandstanders. The House Representatives blew hot air, the Gang of Four's representatives set up fans to cool it down.

A quick summary of the meeting: the House Committee took a firm stand on the undesirability of collaborating with dictatorships. It especially lambasted the Gang of Four for not just passively complying with local rules but having an "active partnership with both the disinformation campaign and the secret police."

The Gang of Four in turn couldn't come up with anything new, reiterating previous excuses like "it's the lesser of two evils" (Google) and "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" (Yahoo). The only new argument came from Yahoo's General Counsel Michael Callahan, who claimed that "these issues are larger than any one company or any one industry." (The latter has been ruthlessly analyzed by John Paczowsky: But we're only giant, powerful tech companies ... how could we possibly make a difference? Say no more, John.)

Finally there was nothing else for the House Committee to conclude, other than the dutiful announcement of a draft bill containing operating restrictions like placing email servers outside China, and a possible code of conduct. We'll see.

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