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Pension fund nudges Google, Yahoo on censorship

The New York City Pension Fund wants shareholders to force Google and Yahoo to refuse Internet censorship requests by governments.

The New York City Pension Fund wants shareholders to force Google and Yahoo to refuse Internet censorship requests by governments.

The fund, which owns nearly $280 million worth of Google shares and $110 million in Yahoo shares, filed resolutions for shareholders at the two Internet companies to vote on at the next shareholder meetings. The resolution states that U.S.-based technology companies "that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian governments have an obligation to comply with the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights."

Specifically, the resolution calls for the companies to: refrain from hosting data that can identify individual users in Internet restricting countries where political speech can be treated as a crime; not engage in proactive censorship; use all legal means to resist demands for censorship; inform users when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to censor content; inform users about the data retention practices and how data is being shared with third parties; and to document all cases where legally binding censorship requests have been complied with and make the information publicly available.

Google spokesman Jon Murchinson said: "We, like our shareholders, place great importance on conducting business at home and abroad in an ethical and legal manner. We look forward to this resolution being considered by our shareholders at our next company meeting."

A Yahoo spokeswoman said the company respects the work of socially responsible investors and is committed to open communication with shareholders about the resolution and Yahoo's policies.

"We are deeply concerned about this issue and have been engaged in discussions with academia, industry, government and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to explore policies to guide industry practices and conduct in countries where content is treated more restrictively than in the U.S.," said Mary Osako of Yahoo's international public relations department.

"We will also continue to employ rigorous procedural protections under applicable laws in response to government requests for information, maintaining our commitment to user privacy and compliance with the law," she said. "These initiatives are part of our ongoing commitment to preserving the open availability of the Internet around the world."

Individual Yahoo shareholders have filed a similar resolution, according to the Paris-based human rights group Reporters Without Borders, which has been urging investment funds for several years to take action to support online free expression.

Last month, Cisco shareholders rejected a resolution calling on the networking company to report on its activities in repressive countries. Only 29 percent voted in favor of the resolution, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Google and Yahoo have been criticized for cooperating with officials in China on Internet censorship efforts. For example, Google released a censored version of its Web search and news Web sites and Yahoo has allegedly turned over information to Chinese authorities that led to the arrest and imprisonment of several people.