Google China controversy raised in shareholder meeting

Google executives couldn't avoid the controversy over the company's Chinese search engine at a shareholder meeting.

The controversy over Google's censored Chinese search engine followed its top executives to the company's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday when an Amnesty International representative took them to task over the issue.

The human rights group is "deeply concerned" about Google's decision earlier this year to launch the Google.cn search engine, which blocks results likely to offend China's government, the man said during a question and answer session with several top Google executives. "Censoring search results ... makes Google a partner with one of the world's most repressive regimes," he said. He also asked Google what it planned to do to win back users who have stopped using its search engine because of the China issue.

Companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have come under fire recently over decisions related to their Internet operations in China, which critics have seen as complying with laws and mandates that violate human rights and freedom of expression. For example, advocates of human rights and freedom of the press have blasted Yahoo for helping Chinese authorities convict several journalists for what critics deem to be unjustified reasons.

China is a fast-rising Internet market, both in terms of usage and advertising, making it attractive to companies that provide search engine services and other online services. Amnesty International has criticized Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in the past over their China operations.

Google's co-founder and technology president, Sergey Brin, thanked the Amnesty International representative for his question and said, as he has before, that the decision to launch Google.cn was a difficult one, involving complex technical and policy issues, and that the situation is fluid and Google monitors it constantly.

In other matters, shareholders voted against a proposal that would have eliminated Google's dual-class voting structure, which is designed to give the company's management more control over the company than ordinary shareholders have.

On at least two occasions, shareholders raised concerns over what they perceive as regular negative press reports about the company, which they said hurts the stock price. One shareholder criticized Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt for saying at a meeting with journalists on Wednesday that Google sees competition increasing.

"It seems like every time an executive from Google makes a statement, which is rare, it's something negative. By 7:15 in the morning I'm down thirty grand [US$30,000], going, 'What the hell is going on?,'" he said. "You all seem like sunny, reasonable people. Why isn't that translating to the media so that positive things are said?"

Google executives responded by saying that they have no control over journalists and they do as much as they can to communicate the company's messages clearly.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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