The internet is a place known both for its anonymity and for the privacy this allows. In the modern age, the networks that connect people around the globe are a nightmare for any regime seeking to oppress its people.
The relationship between major Silicon Valley tech companies Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft and the People’s Republic of China took a dramatic turn in April 23, 2002 when Yahoo’s Beijing office provided the state security bureau with information on Wang Xiaoning, the creator of various internet forums and postings advocating for free elections within the people’s republic.
According to the Economist, authorities released Mr. Wang from jail this past August 31 after spending a decade in detention for ‘inciting subversion.’
The public in the United States vilified Yahoo for its compliance with the Chinese authorities’ request and has since joined together with Microsoft, Google, and others in the Global Network Initiative, an organization dedicated to free speech and privacy online.
The negative impact of the Wang Xiaoning case on Yahoo’s public perception in the states prompted Microsoft and Google to not even adapt their popular Hotmail and Gmail services to the domestic Chinese market. Though the world of 2012 is much different online in the PRC, those who are guilty of ‘inciting subversion’ against the state in China online are still tried in courts and sent to jail – the only difference between 2002 and 2012 is that the number of channels through which a person can propagate a message has expanded, making difficult, if not impossible, the task of containing or choreographing a line of propaganda.