- Diane Greene, Google cloud chief, will not attend an investment event in Saudi Arabia.
- Greene is the latest US business leader to pull out of the event following the disappearance of a dissident Saudi journalist.
- Greene’s decision not to attend the conference comes following a year whe Google has tried to build closer ties to the Saudi government.
Google is the latest in a still growing number of US businesses to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia following accusations that the government there is behind the disappearance of a dissident journalist.
Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene was scheduled to speak at an investment event called the Future Investment Initiative, a conference sponsored by Saudi government, but has now dropped out.
“We can confirm Diane Greene will not be attending the FII Summit,” said a Google spokesperson in a written statement.
A cloud of suspicion has hung over the Saudi government ever since Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, a Saudi citizen, and a well-known critic of the government there, went missing on Oct. 2. The government of Turkey alleges it has proof that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey. Saudi officials have denied it had anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance.
In response to the accusations, several high-profile tech leaders announced last week they had pulled out of the conference dubbed the “Davos in the Desert.” Included among them are Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, Steve Case, an AOL cofounder and venture capitalist, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and Andy Rubin, cofounder of Android and former Google executive.
The controversy comes at an awkward time for Google. The past year, the company has tried to strengthen ties with the Saudis. In April, Google’s leaders met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. According to reports, they discussed cooperating on cloud computing services and the possibility of building a digital hub in Saudi Arabia.
Later that month, after the company reported earnings, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google would roll out cloud services in Saudi Arabia.
“Our global infrastructure continues to expand to support demand,” Pichai told analysts on the call. “We commissioned three new sub sea cables and announced new regions in Canada, Japan, Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, bringing our total of recently launched and upcoming regions to 20.”
Pulling out of the conference could conceivably harm Google’s relationship with the crown prince, though had Greene attended, critics would have likely claimed that Google was once again at odds with the company’s values.
The situation shows just how hard it can be for Greene to build Google’s cloud business, and make up ground on two much larger rivals, Amazon AWS and Microsoft’s Azure, while not running afoul of the company’s moral codes.
Earlier this year, after thousands of the company’s employees rose up in protest, Google stopped working on a military program called Project Maven, an effort that used artificial intelligence to analyze drone surveillance footage.
The company also published a list of principles that would direct its use of AI in the future. Those principles appear to demand some sacrifice from the company. Last week, Google said it would not bid on a $10 billion Pentagon contract due to potential conflicts with the AI principles.
Amazon is currently the favorite to win the contract. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took a veiled shot at Google at a conference in San Francisco on Monday: “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” he said.