Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have signed an industry code of ethics designed to safeguard human rights and freedom of speech online. The Global Network Initiative guidelines, drawn up by Internet firms, academics and human rights groups, will aim to limit the data that is shared with authorities and governments around the world.
Under the guidelines, participating companies will attempt to reduce the scope of government requests that conflict with free speech and other human rights principles.
In a statement, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang said the new guidelines “provide a valuable roadmap for companies like Yahoo operating in markets where freedom of expression and privacy are unfairly restricted.”
Yahoo found itself in hot water last year when it handed over information to Chinese authorities which eventually lead to the imprisonment of two dissident journalists. Google has also encountered difficulties in China, and has agreed to censor local searches for terms such as “democracy” and “Tiananmen Square” in response to requests from Chinese authorities.
Ironically, these firms are constantly under fire from privacy advocates surrounding their use of consumer data in Europe and the U.S. Just last month, Google followed the lead of Yahoo and Microsoft and cut the amount of time it stores users’ IP addresses from 18 months to nine in response to scrutiny from European regulatory bodies and privacy campaigners.
Outside of the EU and the U.S. however, it seems that internet firms are concerned about quite the opposite – the need to safeguard personal information from prying government eyes.