A majority of Google shareholders last night voted against an anti-censorship proposal that took aim at the way the search giant conducts its business in China and other countries that engage in active censorship.
The company received a large amount of criticism last year on news that its Chinese search engine, Google.cn, engages in self-censorship.
Patrick Doherty, who introduced the proposal on behalf of the New York City pension funds and the Office of the Comptroller of New York City, referred to Google's congressional testimony from last year (listed on Google's site), which acknowledged that "the requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship--something that runs counter to Google's most basic values and commitments as a company."
The proposal would have required that Google not engage in self-censorship of its products, Doherty said, and also that the company clearly disclose when any censorship had occurred.
Google opposed measure
In response, David Drummond, senior vice president for corporate development, said flat out that "this proposal would prevent us from operating Google.cn."
"Pulling out of China, shutting down Google.cn, is just not the right thing to do at this point," he said. "But that's exactly what this proposal would do."
The company's board of directors had recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal. Drummond also noted that Google is working with human-rights groups, socially responsible investors, and others to come up with guidelines for operating in such countries, but that "applying a rigid set of rules here is not always going to get us to the right outcome."
Evidently the shareholders agreed.
The specific text of the failed proposal, available in the company's online proxy statement, stated: "Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet-restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system. The company will not engage in pro-active censorship. The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures. Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access. Users should be informed about the company's data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties. The company will document all cases where legally binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available."