Employees and Shareholders Join Forces at Alphabet Annual Meeting to Stop Google Censorship

June 19, SUNNYVALE, Calif. — At Alphabet’s annual meeting today, a Google employee presented a shareholder proposal asking the board to assess human rights concerns about Google’s Dragonfly, the company’s reported search product for China, which could enable life-threatening government surveillance and data-driven human rights abuses in China and set a dangerous precedent globally.  

Despite Google’s attempts to quell public outrage over Dragonfly, employees and shareholders remain concerned that work on Dragonfly has not fully stopped, and that the company must perform human rights due diligence during the product development phase, not after. The proposal (Proposal Number 14) asks Alphabet to publish a Human Rights Impact Assessment by October 30, 2019, to examine “actual and potential impacts of censored Google search in China,” with specific consideration of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Open MIC, a non-profit that organizes shareholder engagement at major tech and media companies, developed the proposal alongside lead filer Azzad Asset Management, a socially responsible investment firm. The group of filers includes institutional and individual investors representing over $3 billion in assets under management.

Joshua Brockwell, Investment Communications Director, Azzad Asset Management: “We believe there are serious human rights implications inherent in a censored search product in China. The Chinese government already employs invasive, data-driven surveillance to track its citizens. The potential for it to weaponize data from Google searches could allow the government to expand its human rights abuses, including mass detentions of the Uighur minority. We have grave concerns about Alphabet possibly re-entering the Chinese market."

When moving the proposal, the Google employee will read excerpts from the statement below, which was written by another Google employee who has chosen to remain anonymous:

“I am a Googler who grew up in China and I am afraid.

This past year, I watched my colleagues debate the subject of doing business in China. They drew hypotheticals, debated systems of morality, and balanced concepts of access, truth, control, and profit. But I stayed silent, not because I had nothing to say, but because it hit so close to home that I had no voice with which to say it.

I was born as a second child under the One-Child Policy. That means I was born as evidence of a crime. Every time I hear another Google employee ask if it's worth it for those Chinese people to be without our Google-branded truth, I remember my mother's retelling of her government-forced abortion of her third child. Her voice is emotionless, but her words are vivid.

I wish I could force myself to utter even a single word. I would ask the people I work with just how different we can be, that deals with a brutal regime are even up for debate.

My family escaped to the U.S. so I could have a life as a person and not as a mistake, in illicit burden. I believed in Google for our previous position against the Chinese regime. Now my trust in Google has been replaced with fear; fear that I am made complicit in the abuse of the Chinese people, fear that my work becomes a weapon wielded in the oppression of people around the world.

My mother is quick to remind me that the people who made our lives impossible to live are not themselves cruel tyrants. The government doctors and bureaucrats obeyed leaders they could never influence. Their ruthlessness was a consequence of their complicity. They are the future I fear for myself.

Members of the board: this proposal is a chance for you to follow through on our engineering culture. Make sense of what you have done wrong in a postmortem. Request review from co-workers. Write playbooks for future incidents. On behalf of all other voices too afraid to be heard, I invite you to earn back our trust.”

Press inquiries:

Michael Connor, Open MIC, media@openmic.org, (646) 470-7748

Joshua Brockwell, Azzad Asset Management, joshua@azzad.net, 571-970-8695 or 571-551-6872