Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene joined the increasing list of prominent U.S. technology and business executives distancing themselves from the Saudi Arabian government’s Future Investment Initiative, an event that has been overshadowed by reports of the government’s role in executing a journalist.
A Google representative confirmed Monday that Greene will no longer be attending the conference, which is scheduled to take place October 23rd through the 25th in Riyadh, the country’s capital. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, former AOL CEO and venture capitalist Steve Case, and Google Android creator Andy Rubin all pulled out last week after multiple reports linked the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey to the Saudi government after he failed to emerge from a visit to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, according to Bloomberg.
The conference is a key part of a modernization push by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia who has made efforts to court technology leaders like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and to set up an advisory council with prominent names like venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and Y Combinator president Sam Altman, in hopes of developing economic growth that isn’t tied to the country’s vast oil reserves. Last year’s conference featured the unveiling of a futuristic city designed around technology, and this year’s conference is expected to focus on “(driving) expert-led debate, discussion, and partnerships among the world’s most visionary and influential leaders in business, government, and civil society,” according to its web site.
But Khashoggi’s disappearance set off a firestorm of international criticism after Turkish authorities reported that the prominent critic of the regime was killed and dismembered inside the Istanbul embassy by Saudi operatives. Just before Google confirmed that Greene would not attend, CNN reported that the Saudi government is preparing to acknowledge its role in his disappearance but will claim that his death was “the result of an interrogation that went wrong.”
It has been quite an interesting year for Greene and her role steering Google’s cloud division. Employee backlash over the company’s work with the Department of Defense on artificial intelligence technology forced it to let a contract expire and doomed its chances of landing the Pentagon’s big JEDI cloud computing contract. And others have reported that Google is looking to expand its cloud computing services to China, which would be a remarkable step for a company that loudly pulled its servers out of China in 2010, citing hackers and censorship demands.