Google to New York: Drop Dead

(With apologies for the headline).

I have been meaning to write this story for some time, and I had all the links etc in a draft post. Those who know me and see me on a regular basis have heard me rattling on about this for a while. Seeing as Slashdot has picked it up (and the NY Times has a brief mention from a while back here), though, I may as well just point in their direction. (I was proud of myself for my dirtdigging, so I should be grateful that other great minds went the same way).

So, there’s a proposal from the New York City pension funds to require Google to be a bit nicer on freedom of expression issues. It’s being voted on at the shareholders meeting on the 10th of May. You can read the full thing in the definitive proxy statement (the relevant bit is here. Read with pride how Google (“Do No Evil”) and its board recommends to all shareholders to vote against the resolution. Note additionally that the Google founders (“Do No Evil”) control a substantial proportion of the votes so the resolution doesn’t even have much of a chance. And note of course that votes proxied back to the Board (“Do No Evil”) will be cast against the resolution.

The operative bit is as follows:

Therefore, be it resolved, that shareholders request that management institute policies to help protect freedom of access to the Internet which would include the following minimum standards:

1) Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.

2) The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.

3) The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.

4) Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.

5) Users should be informed about the company’s data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.

6) The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.

(The recitals mention the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and so on).

Terrible stuff. Do no evil and vote against this nonsense.

Don’t forget that the EU is writing to Google about its privacy practices, and that Yahoo! is! being! sued! Let the games begin.

Do no evil.

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5 thoughts on “Google to New York: Drop Dead

  1. So my understanding is that just about ANYONE that holds stock can make proposals like this, and that any large publicly traded corporation gets many proposals — some from complete wackos. So I’m not saying that this is one of them, or that privacy issues shouldn’t be of concern to Google, but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on this procedure. See rule 14-a8 at http://www.law.uc.edu/CCL/34ActRls/rule14a-8.html for a bit more of an explanation. I am also not too sure that placing restrictions in the “corporate charter” of Google is the best way to approach the problem, but as that leads into debates on “Corporate Social Responsibility”, I’ll leave my comment at that.

  2. Oh yes, you’re absolutely right. And the attempt by the New York pension funds (probably a step above wacko, but you never know) is a bit cheeky, and has absolutely no chance of success! In this case, though, it’s the only non-routine proposal that’s on the floor for the entire meeting – so the least we’d expect is a bit of an explanation from the Googleplex – they have lots of blogs etc, why not meet this sort of thing head on and discuss, rather than burying the head in the sand and hoping it goes away? (We expect that sort of response from Exxon-Mobil to shareholder proposals, but…)

    It should also be recalled that Google did make quite a song and dance about how the people would own Google. Hardly a surprise when they try and do something about it.

    On the other hand, Yahoo! tried to get a similar resolution off the paper entirely. More here. It didn’t work.

  3. Just found this news article…
    The words Pot, Kettle and Black come to mind!

    “By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for internet communications, Viacom’s complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression,” said Google’s managing counsel for litigation Michael Kwun.”
    http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/news.nv?storyid=single8255

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