In response to concerns about its own human rights record, Yahoo! announced a $1 million donation last Thursday to the SFS’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, establishing an eight-year fellowship on the intersection of Internet technology and human rights.
The money will annually support one professional scholar or expert as a Yahoo! Fellow and two MSFS graduate students as Junior Yahoo! Fellows.
The fellowship is part of a larger initiative by Yahoo!, along with other Internet companies and NGOs, to establish a universal code of Internet conduct about how to respond when laws interfere with human rights, according to the Yahoo! press release.
The company also donated $1 million to the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford University for journalists from countries with strong press restrictions.
In 2005, Yahoo! released information to the Chinese government which was used as evidence to imprison Chinese journalist Shi Tao. Jim Cullinan, a Yahoo! spokesperson, and John Kline, the Director of Georgetown’s MSFS program, both said that the donation was related to Tao’s arrest. Kline said that Yahoo! wants to plan for similar problems in the future, and that the fellowship will not be restricted by Yahoo!’s interests.
“Basically the gift is given and Yahoo! has no control or say over this,” Kline said. “They will have no representation on the selection committee.”
Kline said that the ISD depends heavily on funding from both private individuals and corporations, and that the center’s academics had sufficient integrity from their experience as professors to resist any potential biases associated with corporate funding.
“I think that’s always a concern,” he said.
Kline said that Yahoo! chose Georgetown and the SFS because of its strong international background.
“[The SFS] is renowned for preparing future leaders in international affairs,” Cullinan wrote in an e-mail. “That was one of the best reasons for partnering with Georgetown.”
While Yahoo! is pursuing a code of ethics in the short term, Kline said that the fellowship has a wider mission than Internet privacy. When asked about possible research topics, he mentioned two scenarios, one where hypothetical fishermen in India check market prices before deciding to sell their catch and another where they use cellphones to keep track of the authorities and avoid fishing limits.
“This isn’t all Internet. It’s really communication technology … seeing the good and the bad of it,” Kline said. The ISD plans to send out advertisements for the new fellowship by the end of this week.