Vendors seek Web code of conduct

Web companies, educators and human rights groups are collaborating to develop principles that protect freedom of expression and privacy on the World Wide Web

Major Web companies, educators and a variety of human rights groups are banding together to protect privacy rights and freedom of expression on the Internet.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is bringing together these interests to develop a set of principles that companies should adopt when doing business globally.

Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have been collaborating on developing common principles. At the same time, CDT and the group Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) have been facilitating discussion of the issues with technology leaders, investors and human rights groups. Now these groups, along with faculty of various academic institutions, will combine their efforts.

U.S. companies doing business globally have encountered situations in which they censored Web content or restrict access for certain people at the insistence of a government. Google, for example, was criticized last year for keeping users of its search in China from going to certain Web sites. It did this at the insistence of the Chinese government.

"Companies doing business around the world look to some principles and guideposts that inform their actions globally," said Aron Cramer, chief executive officer of BSR, which is based in San Francisco.

Beyond that, the strong support for these principles from the groups establishing them may give companies more "leverage," Cramer said, to influence governments to abide by them as well.

The group seeks to develop the principles and seek to implement them by holding the groups who sign the set of principles accountable to its provisions.

Among the other entities joining together to develop the principles are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the International Business Leaders Forum.

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