Yahoo! Suddenly Discovers the Prime Directive

Captain Picard, his face in his hand in frustration.

In his blog Rough Type, Nicholas Carr points out the hypocrisy in Yahoo’s move to dismiss a lawsuit against them filed by jailed Chinese dissidents. The suit is being filed on the behalf of Yu Ling, wife of Wang Xiazoning, who was arrested on some rather suspciously-totalitarian-sounding charges such as “incitement to subvert state power”.

Nick’s argument is simple and goes like this:

Yahoo logo with swastika flag and Hitler
Believe it or not, this image is from a BBC story on the Yahoo! Nazi memorabilia auction case.
Click the picture to see the BBC story.

Remember back in 2000, when Nazi memorabilia was available for sale on a Yahoo! auction page? A French court ordered them to remove the item since the sale of such items is illegal in France. Yahoo’s top French executive, Philippe Guillanton, argued that:

“ is not doing anything unlawful. It is completely complying with the law of the country in which it operates and where its target audience is,” he said. “Yahoo auctions in the U.S. are ruled by the legal, moral and cultural principles of that country.”

Simply put, it was “screw you and your French laws, we’re operating in America!”

But now that a Chinese dissident has put the legal ball in their court, Yahoo!’s taking a more “enlightened” citizen-of-the-world view of things:

“This is a lawsuit by citizens of China imprisoned for using the internet in China to express political views in violation of China law. It is a political case challenging the laws and actions of the Chinese government. It has no place in the American courts.”

It’s as if they’ve suddenly discovered the Prime Directive.

Carr sums up the hypocrisy so nicely with this line: This time, Yahoo executives are making no mention of “the legal, moral and cultural principles” of the U.S.

Nicely done, Nick! I salute you with a filet mignon on a flaming sword.