Leading Internet companies, long criticized by human rights groups for their business dealings in China, are agreeing to new guidelines that seek to limit what data they should share with authorities worldwide and when they should do so.
The guidelines call for Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to try to reduce the scope of government requests that appear to conflict with free speech and other human rights principles. They also require participating companies to seek requests in writing, along with the names and titles of the authorizing officer.
The Global Network Initiative guidelines were drawn up by the Internet companies along with human rights organizations, investors and academics.
But ultimately, the documents are less about “what happens when you get a knock on the door
The companies are agreeing to consider human rights issues ahead of time as they decide which countries to operate in and what services to offer. The guidelines also call for companies to train employees and develop mechanisms to resolve conflicts.
It was not immediately clear, however, what practices, if any, will change, as the guidelines do not ban any specific conduct, and many of the key points are open to interpretation or are left to individual companies to implement.
The documents do not offer specific guidance on how a company’s employee is supposed to respond when presented with a particular set of circumstances.
The companies were also praised for recognizing that there was a huge problem here and needed to be addressed.
About 18 months in the making, the guidelines do call for the creation of an oversight organization to regularly review the companies’ practices, though what sanctions they face have yet to be decided. Other companies may join the Global Network Initiative.
The guidelines stress that free expression and human rights are ultimately principles requiring the commitment of governments, and that organization will also help companies collaborate on lobbying.
Internet companies have felt compelled to expand into China because of its growth potential, but the push into the world’s most populous country has raised thorny issues, particularly for Yahoo and Google, which were both co-founded by immigrants.
Yahoo and its Taiwan-born chief executive, Jerry Yang, have faced the biggest backlash for handing over e-mails that led to the imprisonment of two Chinese journalists.
Yang has since been more proactive about speaking out for human rights. Leading up to the Olympics in Beijing, Yang urged the Bush administration to use its diplomatic influence to obtain the release of jailed political dissidents.
Google has refrained from offering e-mail or blogging services in China because it doesn’t want to be put in a position where it might have to turn over any of its user’s communications.
Still, Google has come under fire for censoring about 2 percent of its search results in China to comply with government rules. The people living there will be better off with an abbreviated version of the search engine than a full version that is entirely blocked by the government.
From the start, Google has promoted free expression and the protection of our users’ privacy. This as another crucial step. The coming together of all these diverse companies and groups is more likely to bring change in government policies than any one company working by itself.
The guidelines provide a valuable roadmap for companies like Yahoo operating in markets where freedom of expression and privacy are unfairly restricted.
Surfing net alters the way brain works:
The internet is not just changing the way people live but alternating the way our brains work with a neuroscientist arguing that this is an evolutionary change which will put the tech savvy at the top of the new social order.
A neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.
But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks as it can create internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.
The scientist however argues that the people who will come out on top in the next generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.
We are seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills.
They will know when the best response to an email or instant message is to talk rather than sit and continue to email.
The scientist looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information.
The brain is very sensitive to the changes in the environment such as those brought by technology. This multi-tasking could cause problems.
The tech-savvy generation known as ‘digital natives’ are always scanning for the next bit of new information which can create stress and even damage neural networks. There is also the big problem of neglecting human contact skills and losing the ability to read emotional expressions and body language.