Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are subverting freedom of expression by abetting censorship in China, Amnesty International says in a report.
"The actions of these Internet companies are contrasted with their proclaimed values," says the report (here in PDF). "The conclusion drawn is that they have, through their actions, directly and admittedly contradicted their values and stated policies."
Amnesty suggested ways for the companies to remedy the situation. The suggestions include making a public commitment to lobbying for the release of Chinese dissidents jailed for exercising freedom of expression; making the search filtering process more transparent; making publicly available all agreements between the companies and the Chinese government; exhausting all legal options in China before complying with censorship; and developing an explicit human rights policy.
In response to Amnesty's report, a Google representative said it believed engagement in China helped rather than hindered access to information, and that the company has decided not to offer services, such as blogging and email services, where privacy cannot be guaranteed.
Google admitted last month that the company compromised its principles when it entered the Chinese market. Amnesty applauded that admission, but said Google could divulge more about how it censors results in China.
Google currently discloses to Chinese users when information has been removed from search results.
A Yahoo representative said that the company is exploring policies to guide industry practices in countries where access to information is restricted. Yahoo representatives also said the company believed it could "make more of a difference by having even a limited presence and growing our influence, than we can by not operating in a particular country at all."
This isn't the first time that Amnesty, which has said it believes Internet companies in China should act as a "force for good," has criticized the companies.
Amnesty took Yahoo to task over the company's role in the jailing of a Chinese journalist in 2005. At the time, Yahoo said its local country sites must operate under local laws. Amnesty also chided Microsoft earlier this year for helping Chinese authorities shutter the blog of a Beijing-based researcher for the New York Times.
Yahoo has since ceded control of its Chinese operations to Alibaba.com. Nevertheless, Amnesty gave Yahoo the harshest drubbing.
"Yahoo actions have, in particular, assisted the suppression of dissent with severe consequences for those affected," the report said.
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have also been criticized by U.S. lawmakers for involvement in Chinese censorship.