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Re: <nettime> Yahoo, the regulator
geert lovink on 22 Nov 2000 11:34:02 -0000

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Re: <nettime> Yahoo, the regulator

In response to alleged French "censorship of the Internet":

First of all, it is known that the Yahoo! company is consulting the Chinese
government how to deal (read: censor) the Net. We don't hear much about
Yahoo!'s strategy to conquer the vast online market of Mainland China. It's
much easier, of course to take the moral libertarian highground towards some
backward looking French judges. By now, Yahoo! has become a mass medium, a
normal US-American media corporation, not much different in its market behavior
from other old or new service providers. Yahoo! is as vulnerable to the ups and
downs of the stockmakets as any of the other Internet giants.  There is nothing
alternative about Yahoo!'s content, let alone that "free speech" will ever
reach the opening pages of this portal. Hundreds of Yahoo!  editors are
carefully filtering and editing content, buying the news from mainstream news
agencies, promoting silly, harmless, funky infotainment, thereby carefully
preventing today's conflicts and contradictions of everyday globalization.
Because of this cool form of organized innocence we have not heard much Yahoo!
critique, compared to, let's say AOL. It was only last December, on a trip in
Taiwan, that I first heard about Yahoo!'s changing business practice, after
having supported social movements initially (giving them webspace to host their
content etc.). Yahoo's strategy is an obvious one: First fascilitate local
networks, affiliates, communities, small content providers etc. Once the user
base is established, dump them, set up bigger Yahoo! offices and tie the local
company back into the global strategy. Still 60% of its audiences is based in
the US, but that might big fifty-fifty in a years time. Revenues from its
international operations is a moderate 14%. The balance between local/national
infrastructure and the "global" is a delicate one - and this French court case
is exactly about that fine line: where to draw the line between national
servers/services and big daddy mainframe in Santa Clara, California.

It would be interesting to hear what French Internet providers such as
altern.org (and it's supporters) have to say about this case. Brian Holmes has
taken a wise, middle-of-the-road "culturalist" position. He is the American in
Paris. His anarchist statism is wellknown in moderate places such as the
Netherlands where and cold and rainy pragmatism rules. But would it be possible
to overcome such a regional relativism without buying into the sweet arrogance
of Yahoo's US-American libertarianism? Is there such a thing a utopian
globalism which is not based on US law and it's cultural specificities? Is
there a way to design a new trans-national Internet on top of the ruins of the
vanished cyberdreams? Perhaps a Balkanization of the Net will produce
interesting monsters (such as the poverty zones of WAP).

According to zdnet "Vinton Cerf of the United States, said at the time that he
believed the move was contrary to the very idea of a World Wide Web, an
electronic galaxy where information and ideas were exchanged with no physical
borders." I really wonder if Cerf is that naive. He should know better that all
Internet servers, in the end, have a locality. Data can move around, servers
can't. Even if they could they remain to have a physical location and are
thereby subject to the law of the place they are at that particular moment.
Why is the WWW constantly mixed up with the specific US-American juridiction of
free speech? Well, there is a historical explanation for that (the Internet is
an American invention etc.). But how long will that historical claim be valid?
I think that what is at stake in this case of Yahoo! versus the French state.

[For those who want to know more about Yahoo!'s international strategy, read
the interview with Heather Killen, the senior VP of international operations at
Yahoo! Inc., called "the ambassador", in Fast Company Who's Fast Issue 40,
November 2000, pp. 188-200].

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