Google Faces Pressure Over Censorship
Shareholders will have the opportunity to vote on a proposal during the upcoming annual meeting that would call on Google to take a strong stance against censorship and abusive regimes.
|Google Faces Pressure Over Censorship|
Delving into the mind-numbing forms and filings made by publicly traded companies is a lot like muckraking. That’s a term that has been applied, usually negatively, to journalists over the years. The person with the figurative shovel and a persistent attitude gets tagged with a pejorative just for working hard.
Sometimes the old muckrake turns up a nugget of gold, as the New York Times did when they excavated some valuable bits from Google’s 14-A filing with the SEC. While it’s fascinating to be reminded, yet again, that Google’s billionaire power trio of Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin will draw a $1 salary, something that has made it onto Google’s slate of activities for its annual stockholder meeting is a little more intriguing.
The Office of the Comptroller of New York City controls several powerful pension funds: police, fire, teachers, and city employees among them. They own 486,617 shares of Google’s Class A stock, and are using their position to force Google’s shareholders to consider the company’s ongoing role in countries that routinely censor the Internet.
Their proposal would require Google’s management to help protect the freedom to access the Internet by individuals in countries ruled by authoritarian governments. The Funds have asked Google not to retain personally identifying information “in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.”
Google would also have to use all legal means available to resist censorship demands. “Technology companies in the United States have failed to develop adequate standards by which they can conduct business with authoritarian governments while protecting human rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” the proposal said.
Google’s board of directors, which includes Schmidt, Page, and Brin, oppose the proposal and have recommended their shareholders reject it also. Their control of millions of Class B voting shares will likely keep it from being passed.
The proposal would affirm Google’s need to comply with governmental demands only where legally binding procedures require it. Google has resisted placing some services in China that would retain the kind of personal information the proposal opposes, so there is some precedent for the New York request.
Google’s board should look at Yahoo as an example of how data retention in an authoritarian country can backfire on the company globally. Data drawn by authorities in China from Yahoo’s businesses has led to the incarceration of three journalists. The organization Reporters Without Borders has been furious with Yahoo over this, and their displeasure has quite naturally made it into the media.