Google Shareholders Reject Anti-censorship Resolution

A Google shareholders' resolution put forth by representatives of New York City pension funds, which would have mandated the company would not store personal data on servers housed in countries where Internet management may be monitored by the state, was apparently rejected yesterday during the company's annual stockholder's meeting, after the company's board of directors voiced their disapproval last month.

The petition specifically listed Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam as countries that "block, restrict, and monitor the information their citizens attempt to obtain." On that basis, the resolution implied, those countries should not be trusted not to interfere with private data on US citizens.

The pension funds, which are managed by the New York City Comptroller's Office, represent a surprising number of shares of the company - at last count, the Office told BetaNews today, 700,719 shares valued at over $338 million. But that's still about two tenths of one percent of the company's outstanding shares, and not enough to sway the board's consensus.

Google declined comment on the issue to BetaNews this afternoon beyond the company's unofficial statements made during the meeting itself. A spokesperson did say the precise breakdown of the shareholder vote would be revealed during the company's next quarterly analysts' call, which will likely be held in July.

But a comment on the general issue of doing business with countries whose Internet policies may be questionable, was released today on Google's corporate blog by its global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer.

"Companies like Google are trying to be responsible corporate citizens," Fleischer wrote, "and sometimes we are told to do different things by different government entities, or to follow conflicting legal obligations. It's hard enough to get different government entities to talk to each other inside one country. When you multiply this by all the countries where Google must comply with the laws, the potential conflicts are enormous. Nonetheless, Google is committed to providing its users around the world with one consistent high level of data protection."

Fleischer's comments were in the context of a statement explaining the company's recently altered personal data retention policy. Last March, Google announced it would anonymize its server logs 18 to 24 months after data has been collected. As Fleischer explained, a recently passed EU directive requires Google to retain data, and member states have been urged to pass laws setting that retention period at 24 months.

It isn't that Google retains data which bothers New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., but where it takes place. Last Tuesday, the pension funds his office manages filed a shareholder resolution calling on Microsoft to adopt the same anti-censorship stand from foreign governments as for Google and Yahoo, where a vote on a similar shareholders' resolution is forthcoming.

In a statement to BetaNews today, Thompson's office said, "The Comptroller and the New York City Pension Funds believe that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft need to take steps to combat censorship across the globe. The measures we have filed help to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Management at these companies needs to institute policies to protect freedom of access to the internet to send a message to authoritarian governments that they should not block, restrict and monitor information."

The NYC pension funds hold about 28.1 million shares of Microsoft valued at $870.4 million, or just less than three tenths of one percent of shares outstanding.

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