Jack Ma is the CEO of China’s Alibaba, which Yahoo owns a stake in. But the apprentice may become the master if Ma gets his way; he has said that he’s very interested in buying Yahoo. At a speech yesterday at Stanford University, he said:
I’m very interested in Yahoo. The Alibaba Group is very important to Yahoo, and Yahoo is very important to us.
Of course, Yahoo is not officially for sale. The company is floundering and it did just fire its CEO — over the phone — but Yahoo founder Jerry Yang reportedly said after the firing that the company is not for sale. Still, there’s plenty of speculation.
Even if Ma doesn’t get the chance to buy Yahoo wholesale, he has right-of-refusal to buy back Yahoo’s 40 percent stake in Alibaba should the company be sold to someone else. But it seems increasingly clear that Ma is looking to buy the whole enchilada himself, should the opportunity arise.
That news, of course, has led to some consternation in the United States. Privacy activists have expressed concerns that Yahoo’s data on American users might be surrendered to the Chinese government if the company were to be purchased by Alibaba.
Alibaba has rejected these assertions, saying that data from outside China would stay there, and thus would not be under the jurisdiction of Chinese authorities.
Needless to say, concerns remain. Still, could Alibaba be any worse to Yahoo users than Yahoo itself? Skeptics of Alibaba may do well to remember that Jerry Yang’s Yahoo surrendered the private emails of Shi Tao and other Yahoo users to Chinese government, resulting in multiple arrests and, in some cases, long prison sentences. In 2006 Congressional hearings, when other net companies promised to keep China user data outside of the mainland to protect user privacy from government incursions, Yahoo stated they could not protect the privacy of Chinese users.
Anyway, Ma may well be up to something. He’s said he plans to spend the next year in the US learning more about the country and the market. Perhaps Alibaba is planning to expand stateside regardless of what happens with Yahoo? We’ll keep an eye on it.