Shareholder proposal asks Google parent to report on government requests to remove content
FALLS CHURCH, Va., Jun 10, 2020 — Azzad Asset Management, a leading socially responsible investment firm, today praised Alphabet shareholders following a strong vote in favor of greater transparency at subsidiary Google. A shareholder resolution sponsored by Azzad and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate–and supported by transparency advocate Open MIC–called on the company to disclose the search terms and content removed at the request of foreign governments. It was presented at the company’s annual general meeting held on June 3.
Alphabet reported more than 72 million votes in favor of the resolution in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing on June 5. With approximately 53% of Alphabet’s voting shares controlled by corporate insiders, support for the resolution translates to roughly 32% of independent shareholders.
The resolution comes after media reports highlighting Google’s allegedly compliant behavior toward government takedown requests. The Russian government, for example, recently made 175 separate requests for the search engine to remove banned sites, totaling more than 160,000 separate URLS.
Proponents of the resolution noted that the voluntary blacklisting of queries and content at the request of foreign governments is particularly alarming in light of instances of right-wing nationalism on the rise around the world. This includes reports of proposed amendments to state constitutions like India’s Information Technology Act, which sought to make it mandatory for firms like Alphabet to proactively deploy technology to suppress content.
Azzad said in a statement: “As a mediator of internet content, Alphabet is increasingly implicated in governments’ imposition on freedom of expression and access to information. As long-term shareholders of Alphabet stock, we believe that the company has a duty to avoid the risks to our investment posed by suppressing content that serves the public. We welcome the results of the shareholder vote, yet remain concerned about the degree to which technology companies aid governments in the suppression, removal, and control of content. We look forward to further pressing the case in favor of transparency.”
Azzad has previously suggested that Alphabet follow the example set by industry peers, noting that for the first time earlier this year, Netflix, the global media streaming company, named nine movies and television shows it has removed around the world due to government requests.
In response to the shareholder proposal, Alphabet management drew attention to its current reporting framework, which the proposal’s supporters have deemed insufficient.
The firm has stated previously that its Transparency Reports “provide a glimpse at the wide range of content removal requests that we receive, but they are not comprehensive.”
Watch Alphabet’s annual meeting here. (YouTube)