Published: January 9, 2001
‘Offensive’ Material to be Monitored on the Site
Yahoo! has bowed to pressure from The Simon Weisenthal Center and other human rights groups to eliminate hateful material from its auctions.
The last few months have been difficult for Yahoo!, namely due to a French ruling in November that forced the company to pay fines of approximately $13,000 daily if it did not take measures to install technology shielding French users from seeing Nazi memorabilia on its site. It is illegal in France to display this material.
The ruling has since created a new concern for American companies who worry about having to comply with foreign laws when they want to conduct e-commerce across international boundaries.
Yahoo! asked a United States Federal court to declare the ruling both outside of US jurisdiction and a threat to the company’s First Amendment rights as well. But the firm has decided to undertake a new approach to allegedly offensive material by hiring reviewers and employing new software programs. Yahoo! previously had steered clear of actually monitoring the content of its site until protests from watchdog groups and users mandated the removal of material that was deemed inappropriate.
In an interview with The New York Times, Brian Fitzgerald, senior producer of Yahoo! Auctions, said the company was taking a more “proactive” stance to stamp out anything in violation of company policy.
The new monitoring program will take place on Wednesday, January 10, and will use software that automatically reviews information sellers post on the site. If the software detects anything that appears to violate the company’s standards, the seller will be notified to change the listing or speak with Yahoo!’s representatives directly.
Yahoo! officials claim the new monitoring policy was not a knee-jerk reaction to the French ruling. The company says it was responding to complaints by users who wanted the company to be more active in prohibiting the offensive material.
Human rights organizations, however, are declaring victory. “It goes beyond what we could have hoped for,” Marc Knobel, Internet expert for the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, told the Associated Press. “I think that with this measure Yahoo! recognizes the basis for our move.” The LICRA was one of two groups that sued Yahoo! in France.
The company’s associate counsel for international affairs, Gregg Wrenn, says he believes the monitoring program could help Yahoo!’s case with the French court. “I would hope that it would show to them that we have thought about these issues in good faith,” he told the Times.
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