By Eric BrackmannEric Brackmann (1225215675|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft to Adopt Human Rights Guidelines

This Tuesday, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft announced that they will adopt guidelines that will limit what user data they will share with government authorities around the world in an attempt to promote free speech and protect human rights. Additionally, the internet giants have agreed to consider human rights issues when implementing new services and expanding into new countries, as well as train employees on these issues.

While symbolically significant, the guidelines are vague and do not forbid any particular action. According to Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA,

"What's disappointing is that the amount of effort … didn't produce something more substantial."

What does it mean?

From the perspective of peoples in oppressive societies, the guidelines are the first step in building the trust necessary to promote the use of new technologies. On the other hand, it also means that companies may not expand their services to these countries in order to comply with the guidelines. Google, for example, does not offer email or blogging services in China.

From an American perspective, a coordinated effort to protect the privacy of users in oppressive societies is essential to the development of free speech in that society. It is, on the other hand, somewhat paternalistic to assume that American firms know the right way to protect people in oppressive societies. Nonetheless, the effort seems to be a genuine effort to 'do the right thing.'

From a public policy standpoint, the effort seams to part of a growing trend among technology firms: expanding corporate social responsibility to include legislating from the boardroom. The repercussions of these efforts have yet to be realized.

On the whole, the guidelines will likely have little impact on users in most developed societies.

Source(s) & Additional Reading

ABC News
Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal
USA Today

Authors, Publishers, and Google Reach Landmark Settlement

Google reached a settlement with The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) on Tuesday, ending the three year legal battle. Under the terms of the agreement, Google will pay $125 million to help establish a Book Rights Registry to protect and compensate copyright holders, resolve additional claims and cover legal expenses.

According to Google, The agreement will provide:

  • More Access to Out-of-Print Books – Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;
  • Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books – Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;
  • Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online – Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;
  • Free Access From U.S. Libraries – Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and
  • Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works – Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.

What does it mean?

The settlement sets a very important precedent: that information can be freely distributed while still respecting the rights of copyright holders. For most people, it means that having access to the internet is the same as (and in some ways better than) access to the resources of world class academic institutions. It’s truly a flattener (to borrow from Thomas Friedman) that will extend knowledge to every part of the globe.

Moreover, it sets the precedent that a young tech company can stand firm in its values, defy established institutions and come out ahead. $125 million is small price to pay for intellectual freedom.

Source(s) & Additional Reading

Google Press Center
Market Watch
Yahoo Finance

Yahoo Web Analytics Launched


Yahoo announced earlier this month that they have launched Yahoo Web Analytics into beta (almost three years after Google Analytics went live). The service will operate much like Google Analytics, providing website owners with critical user data that they can use to improve their websites. The service will provide data on "trends, visitor paths, and individual visits and transactions."

What does it mean?

The new service will provide some conveniences to current Yahoo account holders and may improve Yahoo’s competitive position. However, on the whole, I don't think much will change given the popularity of Google Analytics. Google certainly has the first mover advantage in free analytics services. Yahoo's effort is too little too late.

Source(s) & Additional Reading

Yahoo Blog

Just for Fun… Microsoft, Yahoo Team Up to Fight Cyber Scams

According to the BBC,

Microsoft and Yahoo have teamed up with Western Union and the African Development Bank to combat the nuisance of hoax lottery emails.

In short, the firms are working together to combat classic cyber scams that promise fictitious fortunes from the African Development Bank in exchange for a small fee.

What does it mean?

I'm sorry, but you might not win as many African lotteries this month…

Source(s) & Additional Reading


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