Amnesty International calls for Google to halt cloud business in Saudi Arabia

Amnesty International is teaming up with 38 other human rights groups and individuals to call for a halt to Google’s plans to set up an enterprise cloud business in Saudi Arabia because of concerns over the country’s human rights track record.

The joint statement — signed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Media Matters for Democracy, among others — calls for Google to end its plans in Saudi Arabia until the company conducts a public human rights assessment and makes it clear what kinds of government requests for data it won’t honor. Even more important, the letter writers state, is conducting that investigation in the open, actually consulting with the people Google could inadvertently help Saudi Arabia to hurt, and speaking to groups in the country who can better understand the issues there.

The organizations cite several human rights violations that they argue should give Google pause. Saudi Arabia has a documented history of seeking to spy on and violate its citizen’s privacy, including allegedly recruiting Twitter employees to spy on the company from within. It’s also taken extreme and violent measures to silence dissent from people in positions to criticize, most recently with the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Google initially announced it was making Saudi Arabia one of its new “Cloud Regions” in 2020, with plans to build cloud infrastructure and partner with Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, to resell enterprise cloud services. The announcement sparked a response from activists groups like Access Now and the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, particularly because Google’s original blog post included a quote from Snap, the creators of Snapchat, promoting the business, Protocol reports. The quote has since been removed.

According to Access Now, Google told concerned groups that it had conducted an independent human rights assessment of its future cloud region and taken steps to address issues it had identified. But the company didn’t share what those issues were or what it did, motivating in part the groups and individuals calling out the company today.

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