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Jimmy Wales on Yahoo in China

Question: What should Yahoo have done differently?

Jimmy Wales:  Well, Yahoo!’s in an interesting situation, because they don’t actually have ownership of their subsidiary in China.  It’s run by a separate Chinese company, and they don’t have a majority control.  Now I have not real deep knowledge of what they could be doing.  In other words, does their contract allow them to withdraw the brand, and under what circumstances.  But I mean, I think some of the main principles people should be using is to say, you know, “We’re going to notify people when we censor content.”  This is one of the things that Google does.  If you’re in China, and you search for something, they tell you that, “Some of the results were removed from this page.”  So that it raises people’s awareness that, “Gee, I’m not seeing the whole internet.”  Another thing you do is try really hard to keep user data out of China so that you don’t end up causing political activists to go to jail for complaining about the government.  Those’re some of the kinds of things that I think should be done.  But then additionally, the thing that people need to remember is that China is not a crazed one-person dictatorship, right?  There’re a few of those around the planet, and those present very different difficulties and obstacles.  China’s a country of laws.  There’s a legislature, there’s lobbyists.  It’s not a really great democracy in lots of ways.  But it is a place where policy can be changed through lobbying processes, and I would like to see these companies making an investment there, and making the case in a really serious way at the highest levels that, you know, “This is something that should be changed.  It’s not good for China’s image around the world.  And it’s not good internally for China.”  I’m hopeful right now.  We just had a change in government in China, so there’s been some shuffling of ministers.  So we’re gonna have a new minister in charge of censoring the internet.  I have no idea what his views are gonna be, but hopefully they’ll be a little more open.  And we also have the Olympics coming up.  And so a lot of people believe that the unblockings that have occurred recently have to do with public image around the Olympics.  Also public image around Tibet.  It’s an important issue for China.  And opening things up a bit, sort of makes people feel a little better about China, and that’s something lots of people have said.  They think China’s gonna try to put forward the best face during the Olympics.  Lots of people are concerned, too, that of course, as soon as the Olympics are over, it’s just crackdown time again.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  I mean, I don’t think that they’re that unreasonable.  I think if-- what happens is, “Gee, we unblocked Wikipedia, even Chinese Wikipedia for six months, and what we found out was, gee, lots of Chinese people went on Chinese Wikipedia and started putting forward a Chinese point of view, instead of a Taiwanese point of view. It’s not a bad thing.  And actually we don’t have riots in the streets or anything.  It’s actually pretty dull in the grand scheme of things.  People are looking at Wikipedia, so what?  And then decide to leave it open to say, “Well, look, this isn’t the kind of thing we need to be worried about, even if we’re still gonna be quite harsh on bloggers who criticize the government and things like that.”  Well, I don’t know what’s gonna happen, we’ll see.

Recorded on: 4/30/08

Yahoo doesn't own its Chinese subsidiary, says Wales.

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