Some of technology's biggest names are joining together to create a code of conduct to protect freedom of expression online. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Vodafone will create a human rights charter along with academics and social groups.

The move may counter the heavy criticism which Yahoo! and Google in particular have faced over their practices in politically oppressive regimes such as China. Yahoo! helped to identify a journalist in China who was later arrested and convicted for emailing dissident comments to the US, according to the court papers in that man's trial.

Google has also faced opposition to its practices in China. The company, whose famous corporate motto is "don't be evil", has provided China with a search engine which is censored in line with Chinese political policy.

Those two companies are now working with the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, Human Rights Watch and the Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT) in Washington on a code of conduct.
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