Alphabet shareholders call for Google’s parent company to be broken up

Consumer group SumOfUs believes that Alphabet is too large to be managed effectively and that creates conditions for collusion with oppressive regimes

International consumer group SumOfUs has submitted a shareholder resolution on behalf of Alphabet shareholders calling for the company to be broken up. It proposes that Alphabet study alternatives to its current structure that would make the company more manageable and its management more accountable to shareholders, highlighting concerns about human rights abuses.

Concerned that Alphabet is now too large and complex to be managed effectively, the resolution cites anti-competitive practices, privacy violations, data leaks, and illegal location tracking committed by the company –– as well as reports that Google continues to work on developing a search engine that censors blacklisted words and assists in the cyber-surveillance of citizens in collaboration with the Government of China.

Codenamed ‘Project Dragonfly’, development of the app is shrouded in secrecy, and while Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated that "right now, there are no plans to launch a search service in China," he refuses to rule it out.

In 2010, Google withdrew from China, citing censorship concerns. The human rights situation under China’s rule has deteriorated drastically since then, yet internal reports suggest that work on Project Dragonfly continues. One million Uyghurs are currently being detained in internment camps where torture is rampant and Tibet has since become one of the most closed and repressive places on earth, according to freedom and democracy watchdog Freedom House.

Activists from the Stop Google Censorship campaign reached out to Sundar Pichai with their concerns and received no response. Furthermore, an international day of action was held on January 18, 2019 to stop Project Dragonfly was met with international media attention, but inaction by Google.

Alphabet’s AGM will take place on June 19, 2019 in Sunnyvale, California.

Sondhya Gupta, Campaign Manager at SumOfUs, said:

“Google is the leader of a new breed of digital corporation that for too long has been allowed to play fast and loose with ethics under the guise of innovation. They promised us a new way of doing business, as ethical employers whose products would catalyse transparency, freedom and democracy. In practice, all they have done is found a new way to line their pockets at the expense of the most marginalised and vulnerable people. Google must be reined in and take responsibility for the harm it is doing – from colluding with repressive regimes to allowing the spread of hateful, extremist content.”

Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director at Tibet Action Institute, said:

There is growing consensus that Xi Jinping's regime is making gains in its bid to spread China's authoritarian model globally while seeking to dismantle long-standing human rights norms and institutions. Given this backdrop, it is a moral outrage that Google is making plans not just to return to China, but to directly aid the Chinese government's censorship and surveillance regime through Project Dragonfly. Tibetans, Uyghurs and many other groups suffering under Beijing's iron-fisted rule are fighting for their very survival and Google's vast reserves of talent and wealth should be harnessed to bring them more freedom, not further repression.”

Rushan Abbas, Director at Campaign for Uyghurs, said:

"Since 2010 when Google was last operating in China, the human rights situation has deteriorated dramatically. Right now, the Chinese government is holding over 1-million Uyghurs in concentration camps rife with torture and abusive re-education programmes. This is a crisis situation and international corporations, like Google, have a responsibility to ensure they do not compromise their commitment to human rights by bolstering China’s repressive regime. That is exactly what Google will be doing if it goes ahead with the 'Dragonfly' search engine."

Teng Biao, Chinese Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, said:

 

"The rise of a repressive and dictatorial China is a threat to the values and way of life we cherish. Google's 'Project Dragonfly' will be part of this problem as it will enhance the authoritarian censorship and surveillance those under Chinese government rule have to live. We must all urge Google to stop being an accomplice to China’s draconian digital totalitarianism."

John Jones, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager at Free Tibet, said:

“We have contacted Google’s executives several times, raising our concerns about the risks posed by Project Dragonfly. It is hugely disappointing that nobody from the company has replied, not only because of the very real risks that the project poses but also because among those who wrote to Google are Chinese nationals, Tibetans and Uyghurs, people who could be directly affected by the company’s return to China. From what we know of Project Dragonfly, Google is happy to accommodate the demands of the repressive Chinese government but is unwilling to make itself accountable to people whose safety is at risk. This must change.”

Sonamtso, Students for a Free Tibet, said:

"For years, China has arbitrarily detained and imprisoned Tibetans for online posts and searches that the government classes as “sensitive”. Google's 'Project Dragonfly' reinforces this assault on liberty by entirely sidelining marginalised people's voices. If launched, it will not only prop up the authoritarian crackdown across China but set an extremely dangerous precedent for internet freedom around the world. Unless it cancels ‘Dragonfly’, Google’s brand as an ethical company will be left in tatters."

Jack Poulson, Founder of Tech Inquiry and former Google Research Scientists, said:

"Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, is on record in late 2018 publicly defending censoring 'less than one percent' of content for Beijing, but his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in December was meant to imply that the Project Dragonfly had halted. Not only has Google not corrected the record by explaining how censoring terms such as 'human rights' and 'student protest' violates both Article 19 of the UDHR and their own 'AI Principles', the company has steadfastly avoided any clarification of credible reports that they would be ensuring the CCP could track all Chinese citizens' queries based upon their phone number. It is time for human rights regulation of not just Google, but Microsoft, for its decade long proactive censorship of Bing, and Apple, for its continual blockage of VPN software for crossing the Great Firewall."

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