Google advises shareholders again to vote down anti-censorship proposal

For the second straight year, the search giant is silently opposing a proposal to shareholders that would prohibit it from housing personally identifiable data in countries whose human rights policies could be detrimental to its customers.

It's a publicly known, if not well known, fact that part of New York City's many pension funds are invested in the stock market. Among the city's teachers, firefighters, police, and administrative employees, their pool of ownership of Google stock alone now totals nearly $383.3 million, according to the city's comptroller-general, William C. Thompson, Jr. So it seems only fair that those employees should have a respectable voice with regard to the policies of the companies in which they invest.

It's the comptroller-general who represents those employees' interests; and over the last few years, an issue that has been close to Thompson's heart has been whether Google and Yahoo -- in which the City holds a $76 million stake -- succumb to censorship laws in the foreign countries where their servers are housed. Thompson wants the search leaders to stop housing personally identifiable data for any of its customers, in countries where that data may be susceptible to censorship or government influence.

To that end, the City advanced once again shareholder petitions to be considered by both companies. Last year, on their companies' advice, shareholders of Google, and later shareholders of Yahoo rejected those petitions; and yesterday, in its proxy materials for shareholders' consideration, it asked them to reject the repeat, once again without explanation.

New York City Comptroller-General William G. Thompson, Jr.
New York City Comptroller-General William G. Thompson, Jr.

"Technology companies in the United States such as Google, that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian governments have an obligation to comply with the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights," reads one of this year's "Whereas" clauses. "[They] 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," reads another.

The Google petition also repeats the list of countries where Google has distributed its operations, whose human rights and freedom of speech policies are under suspicion: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Comptroller Thompson's office had no further statement this morning, though it referred BetaNews to his comments from last January 31: "American technology companies doing business with countries who wish to censor basic rights need to establish standards and policies ensuring that universal freedoms are protected. Both Yahoo and Google are companies based on the fundamentals of user trust. By allowing these countries to censor the information the users receive, that trust is broken."

The petition news comes on the day that it was learned that Google disclosed with the Securities and Exchange Commission it had invested $1 million in China-based social network tools provider Comsenz, a company launched by original Google VC backer Michael Moritz.

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