Boos and hisses for Yahoo (*)
It seems it’s not the parents’ mission to educate and monitor their children, nor is it the police’s job to chase pedophiles. Pointing at the usual suspects such as Yahoo! is indeed a convenient way to dimiss where the real responsibility lies.
Expect more and more European efforts to promote heavy-handed state interventionism, with not-so-subtle undertones that we as individuals are either incapable or unwilling to handle our lives.
If Yahoo chooses to resist pressures, they’ll be painted as slack passive accomplices to the worst criminals on Earth. If they give in, a flood of censorship requests will start. The cultural clash between Europe and the US is only starting, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. In the Yahoo "nazi auctions" case, you might want to go beyond the usual reporting (Reuters’ mostly) of the case and visit LICRA, UEJF and MRAP.
Child abuse, extremist political propaganda, freedom of expression, all these are very serious issues. The answers required (Yahoo! stop this, Yahoo! ban that) might be shortsighted, or hide a political bias you’re not necessarily aware of (for instance MRAP is commonly thought of as a communist association.)
I have a one-month daughter. My two grand-fathers fought Germans and Italians during WWII. I’m quite concerned by these matters and I’m obviously not condoning nazism or pedophilia in any way. If I want to buy and read Mein Kampf to see how sick it really is and build my own opinion, I’m being told doing my own research makes me a Nazi. I’d like to think I’m a responsible adult, and I’m wary of any attempt to limit my freedom of thought and expression. I fail to see how today’s censorship is a proper answer to the tyrannies of the past.
For the French links I provided, you might want a rough translator.
11/22/00 update: ZDNet threw its usual flavor of well researched journalism. No wonder they were acquired by CNet.
11/29/00 update: Ben Laurie, one of the experts whose technical advice was asked by the court, published an apology.
12/01/00 update: Jack Goldsmith, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, sides with the French court. Though I have only the smallest of legal knowledge, I’m not convinced by his arguments. He implies that just because a company has assets in a country, all of its other operations should comply with the laws of that country. That is, auctions on the US-based, mostly US-targeted Yahoo! site should comply with French law because Yahoo! also has an office in France. Apparently, it’s OK that laws have a different impact on large and small companies (but where is the limit properly asks Giles Turnbull?) Goldsmith states that this ruling "explodes the myth of the internet as a borderless medium". On the contrary, I think there are borders, but a judge in my country is trying to export our laws where they are not relevant, while abusing the local presence of the defendant to have a leverage.
On a technical standpoint, mister Goldsmith argues that filtering technologies don’t need to be perfect but only reasonably effective. Just look at a common web server log, what do you see? 25-30% of the incoming traffic coming from the AOL proxies located in Virginia, a state that accounts for 3.4% of the US population. The tracking of IPs by country is likewise flawed (just recently the Google scoot, parsing my other site, was reported as New Zealander). I’m not even mentioning anonymizers, since they require an action from users and could be seen as a deliberate attempt to circumvent the law.
(*)10/10/01 update: The Standard archives seem to fall apart, I couldn’t find a working url or cache for this article.
Boos and hisses for Yahoo (*)