Google’s parent company Alphabet came under fire from shareholders at its annual meeting on Wednesday for its lacking efforts in promoting human rights and combating misinformation.
Alphabet’s leadership sat with company shareholders in a virtual meeting for procedural measures like the election of directors and the approval of stock plans but instead found itself answering a barrage of questions about its policies.
The shareholders used to opportunity to submit proposals that challenged the strategies of Alphabet and its various subsidiaries in addressing various issues.
One proposal called on the company to nominate a board director with a background in civil and human rights.
Another proposal urged company leaders to take measures that would protect whistleblowers who call out the company for wrongdoing.
“Google and YouTube have become lightning rods for disseminating racism, sexism, hate, violence and misinformation,” Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, which sponsored the human rights proposal, said at the meeting. “Today, Alphabet has been addressing the symptoms, not the sickness, which is a business model fueled by clickbait and user profiling.”
Interestingly, this and other proposals concerning human rights were rejected by investors when they came up for voting.
Alphabet is currently facing three major antitrust lawsuits, including a landmark case by the U.S. Department of Justice, and another complaint from a bipartisan coalition of states.
Google has also found itself in hot water in the artificial intelligence department. In December, Timnit Gebru, one of the few prominent Black women in the field, revealed that the search giant fired her over a research paper that called out risks for bias in AI, including in systems used by Google’s iwn search engine.
Shortly after that, Google also fired Margaret Mitchell, who co-led the company’s ethical AI unit with Gebru. Samy Bengio, who managed Gebru and Mitchell and voiced support for them, resigned in April.
Asked about AI ethics during a Q&A session on Wednesday, Google Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker defended the company’s track record.
The company chose to not make any mention of the ousters of Gebru and Mitchell, who had done high-profile research in the area.