RIYADH (Middle East Eye) – The sister of a Saudi aid worker, who was forcibly disappeared and sentenced to 20 years after his Twitter data was allegedly leaked to authorities, is urging Google to scrap plans for a cloud region in the kingdom.
Abdulrahman al-Sadhan’s experience alone should be a cautionary tale to tech companies over the lengths to which Saudi Arabia will go to obtain the private data of its critics, Areej al-Sadhan told Middle East Eye.
“Instead of Saudi Arabia having to send someone to spy from a company in the U.S. like they did with Twitter, they have it right there in their home which makes their work much easier to spy and hack people,” she said. “That scares me so much.”
Her comments were made ahead of a vote on a resolution brought by six investors in Alphabet, the parent company of Google, tabled for this Wednesday’s annual shareholder meeting.
The resolution, which Alphabet tried unsuccessfully to block, calls on the company to release a human rights risk assessment and mitigation strategy for the data center it plans to open with Saudi Aramco in the eastern city of Dammam.
The shareholders who authored the resolution, along with digital rights advocates, say the company needs to be clear about how it will keep data secure in the kingdom.
They specifically worry that personal data could be leaked either through employees compelled by the government to act on its behalf or through the government appealing directly to Google.
They say their questions about how these risks will be mitigated have gone unanswered for over a year and one example of their concerns which repeatedly comes up in conversations is the case of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan.
Abdulrahman, then 34, was arrested in March 2018 from the Red Crescent offices in Riyadh where he was working. His family didn’t know for certain where or how he was - or if he was alive - until February 2020 when he was allowed a brief phone call.
His personal information is believed to have been among that of more than 6,000 Twitter users whose data was allegedly shared in 2015 with Saudi officials by two former employees in exchange for money.