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Institutional investors push Google on China

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The man who advises five New York public pension funds is calling on Google to stop caving in to Chinese censorship demands.

New York City Comptroller William C Thompson Jnr has submitted a shareholder proposal to be voted on at Google's Annual General Meeting on 10 May. Traditionally very few, if any, shareholders vote at these events which approve management decisions like how much to pay the board and whether the accountants should stay on.

Thompson makes six proposals - that Google should not store user information in countries which consider political speech a crime, that Google should not engage in censorship, that it legally resist demands for censorship and that it will warn users when it does accept legal censorship demands.

Fifth on list is a proposal that Google tell users what its data retention policies are. The sixth proposals asks that when it does accept legal censorship demands it makes that information public.

Institutional investors, especially pension funds, rarely make use of their power in public - although theoretically democratic few companies have trouble getting resolutions passed, or over-ruled, at general meetings.

The proposal will need a majority of shareholders to pass but regardless of the result it may wake Google up to the disquiet its Chinese activities are raising.

The search engine has won few friends for kowtowing to Chinese authorities. Although Google refused to hand over search logs to the US government, citing privacy concerns, it did co-operate with Chinese censors. Google offers a much reduced internet index to people in China and removes results on request.

New York City Comptroller William C Thompson Jnr. waged a previous campaign to stop Halliburton dealing with Iraq.

He gave evidence to the US Senate Trade committee discussing how to pressure companies to stop trading with nations that sponsor terrorism.

The proposal is included in Google's proxy statement - it's about half way down on page 30.

In other news Google announced changes to its personal home page - which has been rebranded as iGoogle. The page can be changed using "gadgets" - making it easier to create a YouTube channel, make lists or include a mini-blog on the page. The service is now available in 15 new languages.®

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