Nazi ban goes into effect on Yahoo auctions

Auction customers can no longer buy Nazi SS uniforms on the Yahoo Inc. auction site, nor German Luftwaffe WWII model airplanes, now that the company has put a ban on Nazi memorabilia and paraphernalia from hate groups into effect on the site Wednesday.

But coins, stamps and books remain on the site, like a vintage 1933 copy of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography “Mein Kampf” offered by a Canadian seller.

The decision to ban the items came from a desire to avoid facilitating commerce in hate material, but the ban specifically did not include publications like books, magazines and movies.

Yahoo has developed software to scan entries submitted for auction. Those items that match a profile of banned material will be blocked. What isn’t clear is whether a bowl with the words “Soup Nazi” (a reference to U.S. television show “Seinfeld”) would be banned as surely as a Nazi flag would. While Yahoo will employ an unnamed number of proactive human monitors to complement the software, “there is a grey area,” Brian Fitzgerald, senior producer for Yahoo auctions, “and it’s not a foolproof technology.”

The criteria for defining a hate group remain a grey area as well. Fitzgerald had a hard time explaining what would qualify, beyond specifying Nazi and Ku Klux Klan (KKK) material. He referred to Yahoo’s terms of service, which prohibits content that is “hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable” from being uploaded, posted, e-mailed, transmitted or otherwise made available on its service.

However, Yahoo has not yet chosen to actively seek out and ban Nazi or other hate material on its other online forums, personalized content, branded programming or other various communications tools.

In November, a French court ordered Yahoo to filter out users in France from its auction sites where Nazi items are sold, and would have fined Yahoo about US$14,000 for each day it exceeded the order’s February deadline. German authorities have also investigated Yahoo’s local site for the alleged auction sale of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” which is banned there.

An attorney for Yahoo said the site’s policy change does not in and of itself comply with the French court ruling and that Yahoo does not intend to comply with the ruling.

Yahoo, in Santa Clara, Calif., can be reached at