The first question lobbed at Yahoo CEO Terry Semel by Walt Mossberg at the D conference was why Yahoo was providing China's government with information about its subscribers. Semel gave the standard Yahoo response. "We are totally pissed off, outraged and feel very sorry and badly," Semel said. He added that its Yahoo's responsiblity make information accessible, provide other points of view, and allow people to get to [Yahoo] US dotcom.
"If you want presence in any country you either abide by the law or someone goes to jail," Semel said. "We are not political. We are fundamentally in the business of aggregating content,and we do not take a point of view."
But Semel and Yahoo's minions do have a point of view. As Semel said, "We [Yahoo] are pissed off and outraged." But also realistic business people. "Not any one company can change a country or any one industry, but we have been working together and talking to many NGOs. We went to our own state department," Semel said. China as part of the WTO should have an effect on coming to terms with the issues, Semel added. Small steps, but clearly Yahoo and other U.S.-based Internet portals operating in China are conflicted but not about to bail on the opportunity.
The extension of that notion is how far Yahoo or other companies are willing to bend or rationalize to stay in country. Dan Gillmor asked Semel about moving email servers out of China to avoid governmental intrusion problems. However, Yahoo merged with Alibaba and doesn't run the company, Semel explained. But, the email servers were put in China pre-Alibaba for competitive reasons. Being competitive is really hard if hardware and services are located at a distant port, he said. "I don't know how we would feel about it [having placed email servers in China] today," Semel said. "There are many issues, and we think we are helping to bring about change. Ultimately, it will be combined powers--not one industry, company or NGO--that brings change."