Google shareholders to vote on censorship, human rights

Google releases proxy that includes proposals related to censorship and human rights that will be voted on by shareholders at the company's annual stockholder meeting in May.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read

For the second year in a row, Google shareholders will be asked to hold the Web search giant accountable for protecting free speech, regardless of international borders.


One of the proposals to be submitted at the annual shareholder meeting scheduled for May 8, would require Google to create policies to protect freedom of access to the Internet, according to the company's proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and released publicly on Tuesday.

"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 states.

The measure would require that Google: not host data that can identify individual users in Internet restricting countries; resist demands for censorship; inform users when it has censored content; and tell users about its data-retention practices.

The proposal is similar to one Google shareholders rejected a year ago that would have prohibited Google from proactively censoring itself.

The measure is being submitted by the St. Scholastica Monastery and the Office of the Comptroller of New York City, which serves as the custodian of the pension and retirement funds for city employees, teachers, police and fire department and the board of education.

A second proposal would establish a board committee on human rights that would review and make recommendations regarding human rights issues raised by the company's activities and policies. That proposal comes from Harrington Investments, which manages assets for institutional and individual investors and specializes in socially responsible investing.

Google's board is recommending that shareholders reject both of the measures.

The proposals are timely, in light of China's recent ban of YouTube because of clips showing protesters in Tibet, and a YouTube ban in Pakistan that triggered a two-hour global blackout of the popular video-sharing site.

While Yahoo has received the harshest criticism after its cooperation with Chinese authorities led to arrests of Internet journalists, complaints about Google's policies started in earnest two years ago when Google began censoring Web searches in China.

The proxy statement also includes other nuggets of information. For instance, Google's board adopted a policy in October that specifies the company will only enter into transactions with family members when the transaction is in the best interests of the company. Last year Google invested more than $4 million in 23andMe, a company targeting Web-based genetics tools that was started by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. That financing was reviewed and approved by Google's Audit Committee.

The board also approved spending $1.1 million--$7,000 per hour--to charter a corporate jet for executives to fly in last year.

Also permitted were: Google's sponsorship of the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million international competition to land a robot on the moon; $1 million in financing for Comsenz, a provider of social-networking software and hosted services for Web sites in China; and the $20.3 million acquisition last year of PeakStream, developer of a software application platform for multiprocessor systems.