John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Serves Us Right for Using Google Translate …

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Yahoo has invested millions of dollars in China over the years. Indeed, it’s a cornerstone investor in Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.com, which is slated to go public next week in one of the hottest technology initial public offerings since Google.

It had to run afoul of the language barrier sometime, right? It’s just a shame that when it did, Chinese journalist Shi Tao ended up in prison as a result.

Yahoo General Counsel Michael Callahan apologized yesterday to the House Foreign Relations Committee for failing to tell U.S. lawmakers that Yahoo knew more about China’s crackdown on online dissidents than he initially acknowledged in testimony last year. “Months after I testified before two House subcommittees on Yahoo’s approach to business in China, I realized Yahoo had additional information about a 2004 order issued by the Chinese government seeking information about a Yahoo China user,” Callahan said. “I neglected to directly alert the committee of this new information, and that oversight led to a misunderstanding that I deeply regret and have apologized to the committee for creating.”

That oversight, incidentally, meant that Callahan’s testimony of Feb. 16, 2006, was allowed to stand. And that went something like this:

The Shi Tao case raises profound and troubling questions about basic human rights. Nevertheless, it is important to lay out the facts. When Yahoo China in Beijing was required to provide information about the user, who we later learned was Shi Tao, we had no information about the nature of the investigation. Indeed, we were unaware of the particular facts surrounding the case until the news story emerged.

“Let me take this opportunity to correct inaccurate reports that Yahoo Hong Kong gave information to the Chinese government. This is absolutely untrue. Yahoo Hong Kong was not involved in any disclosure of information about Mr. Shi to the Chinese government. In this case, the Chinese government ordered Yahoo China to provide user information, and Yahoo China complied with Chinese law. To be clear–Yahoo China and Yahoo Hong Kong have always operated independently of one another. There was not then, nor is there today, any exchange of user information between Yahoo Hong Kong and Yahoo China.”

Quite an oversight.

So, assuming for the moment that this is an honest account of what happened, how did it happen? Yahoo blames the incident on a lousy translation of the Chinese government’s order, which didn’t mention that its request for user information involved an investigation into state secrets. Mea culpa, eh, Yahoo?


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald