Skip to main content
Jun 06, 2023

Investors call on Google bosses to be more transparent on AI

Shareholder asks Alphabet to go ‘above and beyond’ existing disclosures

Google owner Alphabet has been urged by shareholders to improve its algorithmic systems disclosures, particularly in relation to artificial intelligence (AI).

At the firm’s virtual AGM, held on June 1, shareholder Trillium Asset Management, on behalf of the John Hancock ESG Large Cap Core Fund, asked the board to go ‘above and beyond’ its existing disclosures and provide more quantitative and qualitative information on its algorithmic systems. Promoting fairness, accountability and transparency in AI is ‘central to its utility and safety to society,’ Trillium said in its proposal.

‘Involuntary, opaque and inconsistent’

Speaking to the board at the AGM, Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer at Trillium, said the existing disclosures failed to meet stakeholder needs.

Investors call on Google bosses to be more transparent on AI
Jonas Kron, Trillium

Naming a list of former Alphabet employees who warned against the risks associated with AI, Kron said: ‘This steady stream of voices warning about what is happening should raise concerns for investors. Alphabet’s decisions have implications for society, in particular marginalized communities and the economy.

‘We believe investors need more and better information. For all these reasons, we are urging Alphabet shareholders to vote for this proposal.’

Protect users and their privacy

In response to the proposal, the board explained that supporting a trustworthy and transparent digital ecosystem for users, advertisers and publishers ‘is critical to our business’. It said its approach to algorithm disclosures requires it to focus on providing an appropriate level of transparency to ‘mitigate related risks and bolster trust while balancing the critical business needs to protect our users and their privacy.’

Investors call on Google bosses to be more transparent on AI
Neal Mohan, Youtube

The board said it is committed to developing AI that is socially beneficial and accountable to people while mitigating unfair biases. ‘As we innovate, transparency and responsibility continue to guide our approach in AI development and governance,’ it added.

Concluding its thoughts at the meeting in relation to the proposal, the board said it does not believe the disclosure sought by the stockholder proposal would provide meaningful information to stockholders and could be harmful. Instead, the board recommended a vote against it.

Live up to responsibilities

Speaking at the SVB Moffett Nathanson inaugural Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in May, Neal Mohan, CEO of YouTube, said the company has been investing in AI to improve user experiences but also to live up to its responsibility in the field.

‘A lot of the work we do to detect violative videos is based on our investment in AI and machine learning,’ he said. ‘So we’ve been doing that for years and we intend to continue to do that. There’s obviously been lots of conversation around generative AI and capabilities there. I think if you think about our creator ecosystem, there’s real opportunities there for us. For our advertisers, there are opportunities as well.’

The results of the AGM vote have not been announced yet.