Saturday, October 01, 2005

Boycotting Yahoo!

The latest story is that Yahoo has been used by the Chinese government providing email records of journalist Shi Tao to the cops, who promptly arrested Shi.

hat tip instapundit

As usual we have two camps those that propose boycotting Yahoo! and those that propose it will do no good in promoting free speach.

I suggest that a boycott would be effective if applied sensibly.

There are two ways of looking at this
1) The individual...
Lets say I am looking to influence others to do the right thing (i.e. help humanity) and that this makes me feel better about myself (surely most people would agree).
Under normal situations I will give my business to those firms with the highest moral standards (after factoring in selfish things like price). If I support a company with slightly higher moral standards than yahoo with my dollars then to an extremely small extent I create an incentive to be moral (to both companies) and also cause a slightly more moral company to become slightly more influential.
The situation might be mroe complex than that but that would generally be a rational asumption for anyone considering such action.

2) The big picture
If we encourage companies to stand up for human rights China will then be faced with a world where the internet companies it has available to deal with are slightly more likely to take moral stands on such issues or it needs to accept the disincentive of inferior service in exchange for keeping their protections.

To counter two arguments used against the boycott
1) This has almost zero potential to create a world where Chinese have no internet access so it is nonsense to say internet access is more important and use that as an argument.

2) Those who oppose such a boycott might say that china will not be influenced by such activities but
a) the argument is one that is just as effective in reverse. If those who are willing to do such things as boycott yahoo have resolve and are numerous the Chinese should be faced with the same objection - they should give up their attitudes towards privacy.

b) Furthermore it is unlikely to be the case in practice. This sort of a policy will create a policy path of least resistance, which, in particular, a pragmatic leadership like china's will be able to follow. All parties in volved will bend a little even if they dont realise that is what they are doing to accomidate each other. the basic principle is that if you push somthing in one direction generally speaking you will have some positive effect (even if it is tiny).

So - the positives are that you SHOULD have a slightly more moral business environment if one engages in such a boycott.
The negatives are - you will probably have marginally less service and have to change services.

If you don’t mind paying the later or in particular if it is out weighed by you feeling good about yourself for supporting free speech then go ahead and boycott!
But I do warn people I they want to use such methods to influence morally to consider if they are indeed pushing in the right direction --

Where is your business going now? Is the company you are now supporting morally better than the other business that you are boycotting? Or are you promoting other bad habits or trends you perceive as negative with your change? In addition to political things consider you might be promoting bad service or something else that you might oppose.


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