Amnesty International has accused Google, Yahoo and Microsoft of undermining the right to freedom of expression through their actions in China.
"All three companies have, in one way or another, facilitated or colluded in the practice of censorship in China," Amnesty said in the report, noting these actions contradict the companies' stated values. The full report, entitled Undermining freedom of expression in China, is available online.
This is not the first time that Amnesty has criticised the business practices of these three companies. Yahoo has taken heat for handing over user information that helped Chinese authorities identify and jail dissidents, including Shi Tao, a journalist imprisoned in 2005 for 10 years.
Microsoft and Google have also faced criticism from Amnesty and other human rights groups. Microsoft shut down a blog on its MSN Spaces website following a request from the Chinese government and Google introduced a censored version of its search engine specifically designed for China.
Spokesmen for the three companies could not immediately be reached for comment. In the past, all three have defended their business practices in China, saying the must follow local laws.
Amnesty applauded Google's admission that its actions in China were at odds with its stated corporate mantra of 'don't be evil', saying this was a first step. Google can go further by being more transparent about its censorship of search results in China, it said.
Yahoo, which has since handed over its Chinese operations to Alibaba.com, was singled out for the harshest criticism. "Yahoo actions have, in particular, assisted the suppression of dissent with severe consequences for those affected," the report said.
Amnesty called on all three companies to take several measures, aimed at ensuring better freedom of expression in China. Those measures include making public all agreements with the Chinese government that related to the censorship of information. In addition, the group called on them to make public the list of words that are censored by content filters.