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Concerns over Google’s ‘dangerous’ Saudi-based cloud plans

January 29, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Google logo seen on a screen in Ankara, Turkey on 17 July, 2018 [Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency]

A digital rights advocacy group has expressed concern over plans by tech giant Google to establish a new Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia.

Access Now issued a statement on Tuesday drawing attention to Saudi’s “dismal” human rights record, amid an announcement by Google that it would be storing Snapchat data on Saudi-based servers, thereby placing millions of the app’s users’ personal data under the jurisdiction of the kingdom.

Marwa Fatafta, MENA policy manager at Access Now, said: “Saudi Arabia and human rights safeguards, historically, do not mix.”

“A new Google Cloud region in the Kingdom is dangerous, and it is imperative that Google outlines, in no uncertain terms, how they plan to protect data and people’s rights from the prying eyes of the Saudi regime,” she added.

“With data stored in Saudi Arabia, Google and Snap will find themselves with little ability to resist government demands for users’ personal information,” said Vivek Krishnamurthy, director of the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa. “This directly places millions of people at risk, the consequences of which could be deadly.”

READ: Saudi dissident sues Twitter for hacking that led to killing, torture of activists

Google has since removed references to Snap on its blog post regarding plans to build a new Cloud region in Saudi.

In 2018 Google announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi’s Aramco – the world’s largest oil producer to jointly set up cloud services in the region. This lead to an agreement last year to establish a cloud system in the kingdom, which has previously been accused of using social media employees for spying on dissidents.

“This new Cloud region will enable Google Cloud customers to confidently grow and scale their offerings in this market and support companies like Noon as they deliver their products and services to consumers,” the Google Cloud website explained. The expansion of the global network will also include new cloud regions in Chile and Germany which will join the current network of 24 regions around the world.

Today it was reported by Reuters that Saudi’s futuristic mega-city project, NEOM, is currently in talks with tech firms in choosing a partner for its first cloud computing project which will lay the foundations for hi-tech services in the $500 billion business zone. It follows the Google-Aramco deal and also a similar agreement struck between Saudi Telecom Co. and Alibaba Cloud.

READ: In Saudi Arabia, a tweet could land you to prison