Yahoo! Inc. is best known for its web portal and search engine, but its services include Yahoo! Directory, Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance and others. Founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo in January 1994, the company was initially in the forefront of the technology boom but has struggled to reinvent itself in the face of competition from companies like Google and Facebook. In July 2012, former Google executive, Marissa Mayer, was named as Yahoo! CEO and president, the latest in a series of CEOs brought in to revive the company. The company has been criticised, along with other search engines, for cooperating with the Chinese government in censoring search results, and in April 2005 a dissident was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being identified by IP address by Yahoo. In February 2008, Microsoft made an unsolicited bid to acquire Yahoo! for US$$44.6 billion. Yahoo! formally rejected the bid, claiming that it "substantially undervalues" the company and was not in the interest of its shareholders.
Teach Yahoo and others a lesson by selling off shares
I write in response to the February 21 edition of the South China Morning Post's Technology section, and specifically, the ongoing investigation by the US Congress into the business conduct of Yahoo and other technology companies. I especially felt the need to comment on Yahoo's hand in the imprisonment of cyber-dissident Li Zhi and journalist Shi Tao.
As a Canadian law student studying at the University of Hong Kong this semester, I have had the opportunity to follow the coverage of these hearings and the public outcry, from a North American and Hong Kong perspective. As the issue concerns one's right to free speech and access to information, there is nothing more pertinent that I could address, given my background.
On its website, Yahoo notes that one of its core values is customer fixation. To quote Yahoo: 'We respect our customers above all else and never forget that they come to us by choice. We share a personal responsibility to maintain our customers' loyalty and trust. We listen and respond to our customers, and seek to exceed their expectations.' Yahoo also claims that it does not respect companies or individuals who 'pass the buck'.
I wonder how a company that espouses the core values that Yahoo claims to have can give a statement such as: 'US companies in China face a choice - comply with Chinese law, or leave.' If such was the case, and Yahoo was not the type of company to pass the buck, then it would have made the decision long ago not to give up the information it did in this situation.
Congressman Christopher Smith said it best when he compared the actions of Yahoo to a situation in the past when the German secret police were searching for Anne Frank and a company gave them the information with little hesitation.
I would call upon all those who believe strongly about this issue to do as I have done and sell their shares of these companies. If these firms can be as flippant as to say that they are only acting in the best interests of their shareholders, then the best way to show them that they are wrong is to make an impact that they will surely notice when their stock prices begin to fall.
Thank you for your coverage of this important and most pertinent issue.
Michael G. Cohen
JD/MBA candidate, 2006
University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, Rotman School of Management
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