Google investors warn that Saudi data project could be used by hitmen

Google investors are poised to squabble over a controversial project in Saudi Arabia at the search giant’s shareholder meeting, warning that the company risks “serving sensitive data on a silver platter to Saudi Arabia’s top assassins.”

Investor concerns center on a major cloud-computing center that Google is developing in partnership with Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil company. The project was the first announced in 2020, with Google saying it would help Saudi “customers to confidently expand and scale their offerings in this market.”

But shareholders say Google – whose code of conduct tells employees to “don’t be angry” – could allow the Saudi government to spy on activists, journalists and other perceived enemies of the state.

As evidence that the Saudi government is trying to infiltrate Western tech companies, they point to two former Twitter employees accused in 2019 of leaking private data about Saudi critics to an ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. They also see the brutal 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence officials say was sanctioned by bin Salman, as evidence that the Saudi government should not be trusted.

“Google circumvents its own human rights standards in favor of growth and profits,” said SumOfUs’ Rewan Al-Haddad.
Picture Alliance via Getty Image

“The Saudi Arabian government will stop relentlessly wiping out anyone who dares to question its autocratic rule and human rights abuses,” Rewan Al-Haddad, campaign manager for a shareholder group called SumOfUs, which works with the angry investors, told the exclusive The Post.

“Google is sidestepping its own human rights standards in favor of growth and profit, and while that’s not exactly shocking, it is seriously jeopardizing the lives of activists and dissidents in the region,” Al-Haddad added. “A Google cloud center under Saudi jurisdiction would essentially serve our sensitive data to top Saudi hitmen on a silver platter.”

When Google’s parent company Alphabet convenes its annual shareholder meeting in June, shareholders will vote on a proposal from SumOfUs members that would require the company to publish a report on human rights risks related to its Saudi project and to list all the steps it is taking to mitigate those risks.

Google tried to prevent the resolution from being presented at the shareholder meeting, arguing that the company already had strong human rights protections and that the joint project with Aramco was part of “daily business operations” that were not subject to shareholder resolutions. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission dismissed that argument, ruling that the resolution must go ahead, according to SEC filings.

The California-based tech giant has said it has already commissioned an “independent human rights assessment” of its Saudi project but has declined to provide details of the report or say who conducted it, according to SumOfUs.

“Alphabet has really tried to keep this a secret,” the group’s shareholder engagement advisor, Christina O’Connell, told The Post. “They are unwilling to show anyone an actual report or show us who created the report.”

Google spokeswoman Brittany Stagnaro did not provide additional information on the report when reached by The Post. She directed The Post to Google’s yearbook Power of Attorney Formwhich was released on Friday.

Saudi Arabia
Google’s cloud project in Saudi Arabia is being developed in partnership with state oil company Saudi Aramco.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

“When making business decisions about data center location, we consider a number of important factors, including human rights and security, as well as optimizing our entire data infrastructure to ensure high levels of performance, reliability and sustainability, and we lead as we expand data center operations to new ones sites are conducting human rights due diligence,” Google said in the filing, urging shareholders to vote against the resolution.

Other activist groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have also warned that the deal could help Saudi authorities spy on dissidents, writing as much in a joint letter last year Google must ‘stop its plan immediately’ for the data center until the company “can publicly demonstrate how it will mitigate adverse human rights impacts.”

“Google’s plan could give Saudi authorities even greater powers to infiltrate networks and gain access to data on peaceful activists and individuals who express dissent in the kingdom,” Amnesty International’s Technical Director Rasha Abdul Rahim said. back then.

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman
“The Saudi Arabian government will stop indefinitely to wipe out anyone who dares to question its autocratic rule and human rights abuses,” said activist Rewan Al-Haddad.
AFP via Getty Images

Complicating the push for SumOfUs shareholders is the fact that the company’s two-tier share structure allows Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to effectively veto any shareholder decision – similar to the structure that Mark Zuckerberg has allows you to exercise almost complete control over meta.

Nonetheless, O’Connell said the resolution will serve to bring lawmakers and the public’s attention to Google’s controversial projects, regardless of whether they are scuttled by Brin, Page and other company leaders.

The main contributor to the resolution is a SumOfUs member named Mari Mennel-Bell. Five other shareholders also submitted the resolution.

Along with Saudi Arabia, the investors also want Google to publish human rights reports on separate products in Indonesia, Qatar and India – warning that all four countries have records of internet use to crack down on political dissent. Google investors warn that Saudi data project could be used by hitmen


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