Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Google’s Aramco deal risks angering oil and Saudi policy staff

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Google will start selling its cloud computing services in Saudi Arabia under a deal with oil producer Aramco, a controversial move by the internet giant.

The partnership gives Alphabet Google regulatory approval to set up what it calls a “cloud region” in the Kingdom, the companies said on Monday. Google employees called on the company to refrain from working in the oil and gas industry, citing environmental concerns and working with authoritarian regimes.

Still, Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google’s cloud unit, pushed to serve the energy industry. This is one of the few areas where Google tries to hunt Microsoft. and Inc. in the cloud computing market.

“With this agreement, Google Cloud’s innovative technology and solutions will be made available to customers and businesses around the world in Saudi Arabia to enable them to better serve end consumers,” Kurian said in a statement Monday. Aramco described the cloud services market in the country as reaching $ 30 billion by 2030.

Google partners with Saudi Aramco Development Company, a division of Saudi Arabian Oil. Aramco has announced that it signed a preliminary deal with Google in 2018 ahead of a high-profile tour of Silicon Valley by Prince Mohammed bin Salman. On this trip, the Crown Prince visited Google and met with its executives.

Months later, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi columnist and critic, drew broad international condemnation. Many companies have pulled out of a Saudi financial conference and some have questioned investments in the Kingdom for human rights reasons. CIA examined claims the Crown Prince ordered the murder, straining Saudi Arabia-US relations

Later that year, Google released a set of public principles for its technology and artificial intelligence after staff protests against its work. This included a ban on AI systems “the purpose of which contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” A Google spokesperson did not immediately comment on the new Aramco partnership.

Jack Poulson, a former Google researcher who heads the nonprofit Tech Inquiry group, said he was concerned that Google’s cloud services in Saudi Arabia could be used to monitor citizens and undermine free speech. “It is irresponsible of Google to do this without some clarification of its scope,” he added.

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