Coddling local taste: Yahoo's just the beginning

Following on Yahoo's recent announcement to ban the sale of Nazi memorabilia on its auction sites, Gartner relased a first-take pointing out the increasing need for e-businesses to address local taste and sensibilities.

Enterprises with Web presence will be required to effectively manage cross-border controversies and sensitivities, according to a Gartner First-Take on Yahoo!'s recent announcement to ban the sale of Nazi paraphernalia from its auction sites.

The Yahoo! decision came at the wake of a lengthy legal battle in France that saw the community portal being ordered to block French users from accessing auction sites for Nazi militaria.

According to the Gartner statement, the issue "will only get bigger, meaner and more convoluted, and will affect an increasing number of e-commerce providers as they expand around the world and encounter often-unanticipated cultural sensitivities."

Yahoo!'s trouble began last May when it was ordered by a French court to block French access to auctions sites featuring the sale of racist items.

Yahoo!'s initial reaction was defiant. Flaunting compliance to the order, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang called the order naïve, and argued for the case of the Web being a borderless medium.

"We have a lot of respect for national sovereignty; we also have a lot of respect for the Internet," said Yang.

The issue in the US has largely been fought over national sovereignty and free speech.

French anti-racism laws are pretty clear on the sale of Nazi memorabilia. By November, the Internet giant was given 90 days to implement the order or be fine US$13 000 for everyday that it exceeded the dateline.

Beginning of this year, Yahoo! seemed to have done the French one up better by announcing the complete ban of Nazi militaria and Klu Klux Klan memorabilia from its auction sites.

According to Gartner, the decision reflected the need for online businesses to take account of user activities on their sites.

"From a business standpoint, online auction sites (such as Yahoo and eBay) cannot ignore such controversial activities by users on their sites, particularly because such auctions can generate the negative perception and publicity," noted the report.

The issue will only get more complicated and difficult, according to Gartner. Businesses wishing to do business on the Web will have to address and resolve regional differences as their reach expanded worldwide.

"Some markets will even contain surprisingly negative reactions to content, products and services from foreign e-commerce providers, which will be required to understand and address these issues for public-relations purposes," said the Gartner First-Take.

"Enterprises with Web presences in diverse geographic locations must be aware of cultural sensitivities and address these issues efficiently and completely," the statement went on to add.

Controlling the Web will not be easy, the statement noted. Partly because filtering technology is not yet advance enough, but also because of the reach and ubiquity of the Internet.

"Internet content will increasingly represent the demographics of real interests among the population, despite any attempts to control it," the statement added.