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Responding department: Business & Human Rights Program (BHRP)

Stock exchange symbol: (YHOO:US)

Does your company have a publicly available commitment to respect human rights?

Yahoo! Inc. (“Yahoo”) was founded on the principle that promoting access to information can improve people’s lives and enhance their relationship with the world around them.  We recognize that our products, technology, and operating footprint increasingly intersect with human rights issues — and specifically, freedom of expression and privacy — around the world and that as a company, we have an obligation to engage responsibly, to respect the rights of our users and to promote the principles of free expression and privacy.

That’s why Yahoo helped to co-found the Global Network Initiative (GNI) in 2008 http://globalnetworkinitiative.org/ , a multi-stakeholder initiative of ICT companies, human rights organizations, academics, investors and others that works to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.  Yahoo has committed to GNI’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy ([link]) and Implementation Guidelines ([link]) and even prior to GNI’s formal launch, established a dedicated Business & Human Rights Program (BHRP) ([link]) the first of its kind in our industry, to help integrate these Principles and the human rights decision-making supporting them into our business operations.

Yahoo’s commitment to human rights is also reflected in our Users First approach to government activities and our Principles for Responding to Government Requests for user data and content moderation, which guide our efforts to balance our GNI commitments regarding user privacy and free expression with our public responsibility and legal obligations.  Information about our Users First philosophy and our Principles is publicly available in our Transparency Report ([link])

The BHRP communicates with our users and the public about our human rights commitments on our BHRP Tumblr page ([link]).

How are human rights governed in your company?

Yahoo was a trailblazer in the area of business and human rights, formally establishing a dedicated Business & Human Rights Program ([link]) in spring 2008 in order to help integrate human rights concerns into business decision-making and to lead our efforts to make responsible decisions in the areas of free expression and privacy.

The BHRP is part of Yahoo’s global public policy team within the legal department and is currently led by Nicole Karlebach, Senior Legal Counsel, Business & Human Rights.

The BHRP actively works to promote privacy and free expression on the Internet and to identify innovative solutions to human rights challenges.  We consistently examine how Yahoo’s business intersects with potential human rights issues and review escalations from teams within Yahoo.  We also work to design and develop policies and processes to address human rights issues.  The BHRP also provides updates to the Yahoo Board of Directors on its work and on pertinent human rights topics, including information about current business decisions impacting free expression and privacy.

How are human rights managed within your company?

Yahoo is committed to the international legal and normative foundations of freedom of expression and privacy, and we’ve translated those principles into practical steps inside the company.  Yahoo’s Business & Human Rights Program helps to ensure that human rights issues are identified and addressed by, among other things, providing targeted training and information on Yahoo’s human rights policies, procedures and our GNI commitments to employees and teams from across the company and serving as a human rights touch-point and central clearinghouse to help route potential human rights issues to the right teams within Yahoo.  

Yahoo also has publicly committed to conduct human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) in order to understand and address the human rights implications of our business decisions and to inform the design of risk mitigation strategies when necessary.  HRIAs serve as a starting point for an ongoing review of the human rights landscape and of Yahoo’s business plans in a specific region and can help to identify circumstances when freedom of expression and privacy may be jeopardized or advanced.  

To learn more about our HRIA process and to read about examples of HRIAs we’ve conducted in the past, visit the BHRP Tumblr page ([link])

As part of our commitment to the GNI Principles and Implementation Guidelines, Yahoo is also assessed by a third-party assessor on the policies and procedures we have in place to support our human rights commitments.  For more information on the assessment process, please see Yahoo’s response to question 5 in this survey and visit our BHRP Tumblr page ([link])

What is the company’s approach to the engagement of stakeholders (including workers, and local communities impacted by the company’s activities), on human rights issues?

As a global media and Internet company, Yahoo recognizes that we have a responsibility to promote free expression and privacy, and that we have an opportunity to use our platform to foster an exchange of ideas about how companies, government, NGOs, responsible investors, users and other stakeholders can work together to address the complex issues that lie at the intersection of technology and human rights.  We know that our users are important stakeholders, and we engage directly with them through our Yahoo Business & Human Rights Program Tumblr page [link] and also through our BHRP Twitter.  

We also maintain strong relationships within the Global Network Initiative and with industry peers, human rights groups, academics, and governments, including the U.S. Department of State.  We also engage directly with multiple stakeholders in order to promote rule of law and the reform of laws, policies and practices that infringe on freedom of expression and privacy.  To that end, we have taken a number of steps, including:

  • Active engagement with governments and agencies around the world to encourage a shared understanding of the power of the Internet, media and information to inspire, inform and create positive change, promote free expression and privacy in the ICT sector and to discuss GNI’s aims. We also strive to create a shared understanding of the negative impact of laws that do not protect the rights to free expression and privacy.
  • Active and direct engagement with a number of experts, NGO’s and other organizations, both inside and outside of GNI, to discuss options for working together to address issues of free expression and privacy in the ICT sector.  

Since 2009, the BHRP has also hosted external events focused on a range of topics.  We have explored how women are using social media, digital media, technology and the Internet to change their world and we have also begun hosting Yahoo User First events to introduce start-ups and new companies to discussions on topics from encryption to privacy, to child safety, to free expression.  Our hope in designing these events is to connect new companies to a variety of resources, including other companies to think about these issues and incorporate them into business processes, policies and operations.  

Yahoo also has encouraged scholarship on technology and human rights.  We have funded two university fellowships, including the Yahoo International Journalism Fellowship ([link]) at Stanford University and the Fellowship in International Values, Communications, Technology and the Global Internet ([link]) at Georgetown University to advance the work of journalists and scholars exploring the complex issues at the intersection of technology, free expression, privacy and global values.  This year's Yahoo Fellow at Georgetown University is free expression champion and Cuban blogger, author and journalist, Yoani Sánchez ([link]).

Actions on freedom of expression and privacy

In 2008, Yahoo formally established a dedicated Business & Human Rights Program, the first of its kind in the industry, in order to lead our efforts to make responsible decisions in the areas of free expression and privacy.  Yahoo also is one of the founding members of the Global Network Initiative and serves on the GNI board.  

As a member of GNI, we have worked with other stakeholders to develop an effective system to assess our own performance in meeting our overall goals and our operational steps relating to human rights issues, including free expression and privacy.  As part of our commitment to the GNI Principles and Implementation Guidelines, we agreed to be assessed by a third-party assessor on the policies and procedures we have in place to support our commitments.  

In 2010, pursuant to the GNI Governance, Accountability and Learning Framework ([link]) , we provided a report to the GNI on our progress toward creating and adopting internal policies and procedures necessary to implement the Principles.  In 2011, an independent assessment of Yahoo was conducted by KPMG AG of the policies, processes, and procedures we have in place to implement the GNI Principles.  To learn more about the assessment, see here ([link])

In 2013, an independent assessment was conducted by KPMG AG. The assessment reviewed company process, as well as company responses to specific government demands implicating freedom of expression or privacy in order to determine company compliance and identify whether our policies and procedures work in practice.  In January 2014 (http://yahoopolicy.tumblr.com/post/72668362786/global-network-initiative...), the GNI released a public report ([link]) on the independent assessment that determined that Yahoo is making good faith efforts to implement GNI’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy.  Yahoo is assessed bi-annually and our next assessment will be in 2015.

In addition to assessments, Yahoo actively advocates for the adoption of laws and policies that protect and respect our users’ rights to privacy and free expression.  Some recent examples include:

  • In September 2014, more than 1,500 pages of once-secret papers from Yahoo’s 2007-2008 challenge to the expansion of U.S. surveillance laws were released.  In 2007, the U.S. government amended a key law to demand user information from online service providers.  Yahoo refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance, and we challenged the government’s authority in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and in a later appeal to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISC-R).  We were unsuccessful in these challenges and we were ordered to give the government the user data that it sought in the matter.  The hearings and records of these courts are typically classified and closed to the public.  As a result, Yahoo’s role in the 2007-2008 lawsuit remained classified until 2013.  A decision to open FISC and FISC-R records to the public is extremely rare but Yahoo fought to declassify documents from the case.  We view the release of materials as an important victory for transparency and we will continue to request that more materials be declassified to promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process and intelligence gathering.  For more information, see here ([link]).   The released documents are being hosted by the Center for Democracy & Technology here ([link])
  • Yahoo is working, through the Reform Government Surveillance Group ([link]) , with other companies to advocate for reform to ensure that U.S. surveillance laws are transparent, reasonable and subject to independent oversight. This group has called on governments to endorse principles, including: (1) limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information; (2) oversight and accountability; (3) transparency about government demands; (4) respecting the free flow of information; and (5) avoiding conflicts among governments, and to enact reforms to put those principles into action.
  • In response to efforts by a number of countries to expand their surveillance authority beyond their own borders, we are engaging on a number of fronts, including in efforts to reform the MLAT process.  

  

  • Yahoo has been consistently urging Congress to bring bipartisan legislation to the floor to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to match our current practice of requiring a search warrant before disclosing our users’ stored electronic communications.  We are advocating for reforms that would require the U.S. government to obtain a warrant in order to compel a service provider to disclose the content of emails, texts or other private material stored on behalf of its users.  

How are human rights commitments and information about how the company addresses its human rights impacts communicated, internally and externally?

Yahoo communicates with its users about its human rights commitments and how it addresses human rights impacts through its BHRP Tumblr, [link] Global Public Policy Tumblr [link] and Transparency Report [link] . The Yahoo BHRP also communicates regularly with employees at Yahoo through newsletters, trainings and information sharing sessions with employees from across the company.

The BHRP has also created a virtual, cross-functional team of senior-level employees from across Yahoo to assist in disseminating information on human rights issues throughout the company and to serve as points of contact to help the Program integrate important human rights considerations into business decision-making.  

What provisions does your company have in place to ensure that grievances from workers and affected communities or individuals are heard, and can you provide examples of remedies provided?

For issues or questions related to Yahoo’s implementation of the GNI Principles and Guidelines, the GNI website [link] provides contact information for member companies, including Yahoo.  This enables users to directly reach our BHRP team to ask questions or submit comments or concerns related to our compliance with the GNI Principles.  The BHRP also works directly with a number of trusted partner organizations to provide assistance to human rights defenders who use Yahoo services and products.

Users may report comments or photos that are inappropriate or abusive in nature through our Report Abuse link [link]   Our team investigates reported abuse, however, we do not send out notifications of the outcome of our investigations.  Users also can report spam, hacked accounts and phishing scams to Yahoo by visiting here [link]

For information about how Yahoo treats personal information and ways to control your preferences and settings, visit the Yahoo Privacy Center [link]   The Yahoo Terms Center [link] provides details on the terms of service and license terms for Yahoo properties, products or services.  Users can also refer directly to the specific Yahoo property, service, product or co-branded services for those terms.  For questions about account security, users can contact Yahoo Help Central [link] or visit the Yahoo Security Center [link]   For information on how to use Yahoo safely users can visit Yahoo Safety [link]

Finally, Yahoo is committed to conducting our business in accordance with the highest standards of business conduct.  We provide the Yahoo IntegrityLine [link]  a secure and independent resource for voicing concerns of wrongdoing or raising inquiries related to our business conduct.  Individuals can report issues confidentially and have the choice to remain anonymous.  We provide both telephone and web-based reporting options in almost any language and there is 24 access.  We are able to follow up on concerns even if an individual chooses to remain anonymous.

Which external and collaborative human rights initiatives does your company participate in, and what is the nature of your involvement?

Yahoo is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative [link]  a multi-stakeholder initiative comprising ICT companies, human rights organizations, academics, investors and others that works to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.  Yahoo sits on the GNI Board of Directors.

Which are the key one, two or three elements of your approach to human rights that been developed or amended since June 2011? Please indicate if these actions were in response to the UN Guiding Principles.

Yahoo was the first company in our industry to create a dedicated human rights program in 2008.  In that same year, Yahoo co-founded the Global Network Initiative, which informs regular developments to our policies and practices related to human rights.  We welcomed the endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles in 2011 and we continue to use this type guidance to help inform our approach to addressing the interesting and challenging issues at the intersection between business and human rights.

What are some of the obstacles and challenges that your company encounters in implementing its human rights commitments?

It’s no secret that certain governments around the world don’t live up to widely recognized standards for protecting the free expression and privacy rights of their own citizens.  While the root causes of these threats clearly lie with governments, we also know corporations have important obligations in the field of human rights.  Still, one of the biggest challenges we face is that governments ultimately are the ones who make and enforce laws and who have the power to introduce measures to use technology to their advantage in order to weaken political dissent.  As a company, we strive to make rights-respecting decisions and to remain vigilant and engaged in the global dialogue to protect the rights of our users and we welcome initiatives that allow us to share information about our commitments, to learn and to improve.