Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! betrayed their values and colluded with government censorship in China in pursuit of lucrative revenue opportunities, according to human rights charity Amnesty International.
Yahoo! has been singled out as the worst offender by Amnesty for allowing its Chinese partner Alibaba to pass email data to the Chinese authorities that was subsequently used to convict a journalist now serving a 10-year jail sentence.A new Amnesty report out today claimed: "Yahoo!'s actions have, in particular, assisted the suppression of dissent with severe consequences for those affected."
In its defence Yahoo! claims decisions about co-operating with Chinese officials are in the hands of Alibaba not Yahoo!, which is a 40 percent minority shareholder in the company and has one seat on the board.
In Microsoft's case the company stands accused of preventing Chinese citizens from creating blogs on MSN China with words such as 'human rights', 'freedom of expression', 'Tibet independence', and 'Falun Gong' in the title.
More recently Google launched a censored Google.cn Chinese version of its search engine as an alternative to its Google.com engine, which was already available to Chinese Internet users but filtered first through the so-called 'Great Firewall of China'.
The Amnesty report said: "All three companies have in different ways facilitated or participated in the practice of government censorship in China. The willingness of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to override their principles amounts to a betrayal of trust in the face of the lucrative opportunities that the Chinese market offers them."
Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, Motorola and Sun Microsystems are also cited by Amnesty as having links to the repression of freedom of expression in China.
The report said: "The sophisticated technology that allows the government to block and filter internet content is primarily designed by foreign companies. Words and phrases that have been targeted include 'human rights', 'democracy' and 'freedom'."
Amnesty is calling on the companies to be transparent about the filtering process they use in China and to make public which words and phrases are filtered and how these words are selected, as well as making publicly available all agreements between the company and the Chinese government related to the censorship of information and suppression of dissent.
This is backed by a new online petition set up by Amnesty urging web users to lobby governments and tech companies about their actions in China.
Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.