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Alphabet shareholders concerned over opening cloud centers in ‘HR hotspots’

Alphabet shareholders are concerned about the company’s plans to expand Google Cloud Data Centers in “human rights hotspots,” such as India. This marks another instance of the growing scrutiny faced by Big Tech companies in areas such as competition, privacy, online abuse, and human rights.

Alphabet shareholders have floated a proposal in this regard, which will be voted on at the company’s annual general meeting on June 2.

Proposal Number 10, titled “Stockholder proposal regarding human rights assessment of data center siting”, said, “Shareholders are concerned by Alphabet’s announced plans to expand data center operations in locations reported by the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to present significant human rights violations.”

The countries mentioned in the proposal include Indonesia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and India.

“These include… Delhi, India where the government frequently orders internet shutdowns and where Google’s Transparency report showed a 69% increase in government requests for user data in 2019 and an additional 50% by 2021,” the proposal read.

Moneycontrol has reviewed the proposal, which has been filed by SumofUS, a global non-profit advocacy organisation and an online community, which has now been renamed Eko. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate-United States Province is a co-filer of this proposal along with others.

Shareholders have asked Alphabet’s Board of Directors to commission a report assessing the siting of Google Cloud Data Centers in such countries, regulatory filings showed.

However, Alphabet’s Board has recommended a vote against this proposal.

“Our company’s enduring commitment to human rights is reflected in our robust management and governance structures regarding risks related to human rights. Oversight of human rights-related risks is an established responsibility of the Audit Committee,” Alphabet said in a regulatory filing as a response to the proposal.

“Our existing extensive disclosures provide transparency on our approach to evaluating and managing human rights-related risks, including in the context of siting data centers. Therefore, our Board believes the additional report requested by this proposal would not provide additional useful information to our stockholders and recommends a vote AGAINST this proposal,” it added.

Moneycontrol has reached out to Google with queries on the matter and the article will be updated when a response is received.

Christina O’Connell, a shareholder engagement advisor at Eko and the lead filer of Proposal 10, points out that last year, before the AGM 2022, Alphabet shareholders filed a similar proposal.

“Even though the proposal for a human rights assessment of Google Cloud centers received an impressive 48.97% of the independent votes the first year it was filed — a tremendous amount of support — Alphabet still won’t even talk to its shareholders about the concerns they have raised, let alone agree to explain how it mitigates the risks of entering the market in a country like Saudi Arabia, which has an appalling human rights record,” O’Connell said.

Big Tech companies like Meta and Google have a dual-class share structure, where company founders have outsized voting powers compared to other shareholders. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg owns 14 percent of Meta’s shares, but holds a massive 58 percent of the voting power of the company, according to digital rights group Access Now.

This was also evident in voting out of Proposal 7 in Meta’s AGM held on May 31, late evening.

Meta shareholders were seeking accountability over allegations of Facebook’s “political entanglement and content management biases in India”.

“Voting on Proposal 7 took place a few minutes ago. Unfortunately, as per the preliminary voting outcomes, the vote was not in favour of Proposal 7. This is a loss for Indian users of @Meta’s platforms, but our fight for transparency & accountability from Meta does not end here,” digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation said. Moneycontrol

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