WASHINGTON, DC: Following sustained criticism of their craven compliance with personal information demands by totalitarian regimes, the planet's dominant web trio – Google, Yahoo and Microsoft – have  adopted a new code of conduct drafted by a group that includes human rights organizations

Members of Congress and democratic rights organizations worldwide have condemned the companies for supplying personal information to authoritarian governments.

Yahoo, in particular, faced questioning by Congress last year for surrendering emails that led to the imprisonment of Chinese dissidents.

The new code, titled the Global Network Initiative, comprises a set of principles drafted over the past two years. They undertake to . . .

  • Protect the personal information of their users wherever they do business;
  • "Narrowly interpret and implement government demands that compromise privacy," as defined by the code;
  • Scrutinize a country's track record of jeopardizing personal information and freedom of expression before launching new businesses in that country;
  • Discuss all such risks widely with executives and board members of a signatory company.
Says Google's director of corporate and policy communications Robert Boorstin: "Common action by these diverse groups is more likely to bring about change in government policy than the efforts of any one company or group acting alone."

While Yahoo ceo Jerry Yang [in what might be a valedictory message] hailed the new principles as "a valuable roadmap that will help ensure that technology and the internet continue to help improve people's lives".

But dissenting voices say the code does not go far enough. "More serious questions have to be asked about [a participating]  company's legal obligations," argues Morton Sklar, US executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights.

Sklar wants the code to address whether internet companies are violating US or international laws by complying with requests from certain governments.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff