Google grilled on human rights

Google shareholders voted down two proposals that would have compelled the search giant to implement more stringent human rights policies

Google's shareholders, following the advice of the board, voted down two proposals on Thursday that would have compelled the search giant to change its human rights policies, but the issue dominated the company's annual shareholder meeting nevertheless.

Sergey Brin, cofounder and president of technology for Google, abstained from voting on either of the proposals. "I agreed with the spirit of these proposals," Brin said. But he said he didn't fully support them as they were written, and so did not want to vote for them.

Several US-based technology companies have been criticized for their activities in China. Google has come under fire for operating a version of its search engine that complies with China's censorship rules. Google was criticized for launching a search service in 2006 aimed at Chinese users that blocks results considered objectionable to the Beijing government. Google argues that it's better for it to have a presence in the country and to offer people some information, rather than for it to not be active in China at all.

In March Google's board of directors indicated they opposed a ban on Internet censorship as well as the creation of a committee that would review the company's policies on human rights, according to the company's proxy statement filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission and released publicly Tuesday.

However, shareholders and rights groups including Amnesty International, who have previously stated that , continue to push Google to improve its policies in countries known for human rights abuses and limits on freedom of speech. One of the shareholder proposals was from the office of the Comptroller of New York City, which oversees the New York City employees retirement system. The group holds US$200 million worth of Google stock.

The proposal, presented by an Amnesty worker, suggested that Google institute a series of policies to protect freedom of access to the Internet. The policies should include using all legal means to resist demands for censorship, informing users when the company has complied with requests for censorship, and hosting information that can identify users only in countries that don't restrict the Internet.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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