SAUDI ARABIA AND THE BIG FIVE
Missing Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. Eight days later, a Turkish Government investigative team accused Saudi Arabia's "highest levels of the royal court" of ordering the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi by a team of assassins. In response, Saudi Arabia has conducted their own investigation and has said they believe Khashoggi was murdered, but that senior leadership was unaware of the "rogue operation" that lead to his death. They have also said they are currently searching for the individuals responsible and are "determined to punish those responsible".
An investigation by the CIA determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS, ordered the killing. MBS also infamously jailed many prominent Saudis as part of a "anti-corruption" drive that others saw as part of a campaign to intimidate any internal opposition. Despite being known for advocating change within Saudi society, he has also had actitivists jailed. All in all, MBS is a repressive authoritarian completely at odds with the democratic process and an open society. But that hasn't stopped Big Tech from doing business with him, as we detail below.
The Big Five (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple) have had their fair share of lucrative dealings with the Saudi Government. In fact, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was seen in meetings with Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Jeff Bezos during a recent US tour in early 2018.
Saudi Arabia is looking to invest $2 trillion in venture capital through a national investment fund - $45 billion of which is earmarked for tech! Couple this with the impending boom in Saudi Arabia's e-commerce(predicted to increase over 760% by 2025) and you've got a money making machine so powerful not even Bezos can help but drool.
- Google opened a headquarters in Dubai in 2008.
- Pichai and Brin met with the Saudi Crown Prince to discuss a partnership for cloud computing services and digital transformation opportunities in April 2018.
- Alphabet Inc. is reportedly in talks with the state oil company Saudi Aramco to partner on building a giant tech hub in Saudi Arabia.
- Google has also fawned over Saudi Arabia by featuring many Saudi Arabian people in Google Doodles as well as featuring Saudi Arabia's "National Day".
- In 2015, Google held its first "Think with Google" conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During the event, Google told the over 500 Saudi businesses in attendance that it plans to step up and support them in developing an online presence.
- Saudi Arabia was chosen for the launching of Google's driverless car (i.e., Waymo). Google called the country "perfect" for the launch.
- Saudi Arabia also invested $3.5 billion into Uber, a rideshare company in which Google has a considerable financial stake.
- In 2015, Apple released an Arabic version of Siri for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
- It took Apple 3 years of collaborations to convince the Saudi Government to open an Apple retail store. The first store opened at King Khalid International in Riyadh on July 25, 2018. It has been reported that even more stores will be opening in the near future.
- Tim Cook gave the Crown Prince an almost unheard of
tourof the $5 billion Apple Park campus.
- Apple Pay is coming to Saudi Arabia in the near future, according to an announcement made by Apple on August 10, 2018.
Many people have called upon Apple Inc. to stop selling products in Saudi Arabia as a means of standing up for the LGBT community. Currently, in Saudi Arabia, homosexual behaviors are punishable by imprisonment, flogging, or death. The irony that Tim Cook is a homosexual, but continues to push for a greater presence in Saudi Arabia is a testament to his dedication to the company's bottom line.
- Facebook's relationship with Saudi Arabia has always been turbulent. There are many laws and customs in Saudi Arabia that result in Facebook users being arrested, jailed, and punished.
- One young woman was beaten, shot and killed by her father for chatting on Facebook's site with a man.
- In 2015, the Saudi Government warned its citizens. Those caught "spreading rumors" on Facebook about the Government will get the death penalty.
- In 2016 Facebook Messenger's voice and video call functions were banned for violating regulations.
- In spite of the constant negative reactions to Facebook by the Saudi Government and religious officials residing in Saudi Arabia, Facebook continues to partner with Saudi Arabia.
- To address the circulation of "disinformation" on Facebook, Zuckerberg is teaming up with a Saudi-funded think-tank and a few military contractors. Together they will decide what information to suppress for Facebook users.
- Facebook may be trying to ignore the human rights violations of its users in Saudi Arabia because usage in the US and UK is stagnating while usage in Saudi Arabia is predicted to grow.
- Around the start of Ramadan in 2013, Facebook announced Saudi Arabia would be the first to receive a rollout of an Islamic Hijri calendar.
- Facebook censored negative and anti-Saudi accounts while many Saudi's were pushing for the beheading of a woman activist and the seeking the death penalty for an additional 4 protestors.
- Toward the end of 2017, a Facebook Director reported that Facebook was looking forward to working with the Saudi Government. The Director of Facebook Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan also said that Facebook will be investing everything it can to help support the country's 2030 vision.
- Saudi Arabia is trying to convince Amazon to open a data center with a stimulus package as the bait.
- In early 2018, Bezos met with the Saudi Crown Prince to discuss investment
opportunities,and cooperation between Amazon and the Saudi Government.
- Bezos is probably even more interested in doing business with Saudi Arabia after the Crown Prince announced the PIF is backing Noon - an Amazon-like venture - with $500 million and another $500 million from other investors.
- When Bezos made a huge hiring push earlier this year in 2018, he signaled Amazon is vested in a Saudi Arabian future.
- Amazon Web Services is also considering expansion into Saudi Arabia as the country is attempting to become a high tech nation. One source said there could be up to $100 billion in deals to be made to build the three tech hub centers.
- Souq.com is an Amazon subsidiary that will be opening the first Amazon Global Store for Saudi Arabia through its e-commerce platform.
- With all of the big deals in currently in play, it's no wonder Bezos has said very little about the missing Washington Post journalist, Khashoggi.
- Microsoft groveled before Saudi Arabia, apologizing profusely, for the translation blunder with "Daesh" back in 2016. Bing's crowdsourced suggestion for the term translated it to "Saudi Arabia" when in fact it should have said "Islamic State".
- In 2016, Saudi Arabia signed an MOU with Microsoft to train young Saudi nationals and develop telecommunications infrastructure.
- Microsoft recently appointed a new President for Microsoft Arabia. ThamerAlharbi will help Microsoft play its role in Saudi Arabia's 'Saudi Vision 2030' campaign.
- Microsoft's hybrid cloud-computing product, Azure Stack, was recently introduced in Saudi Arabia. Microsoft is getting ahead of the game as it is predicted that the cloud market will grow exponentially as the Saudi government begins to take advantage of the technology.
- More and more leading Saudi corporations are turning to Microsoft for their core platforms, including Riyadh's Bank Albilad.
- Bill Gates met with Crown Prince MBS in November 2017. The two discussed Microsoft's desire to enter the Saudi market with new investments.
- Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with the Crown Price MBS in 2018 to discuss Microsoft's role in supporting Saudi Arabia's digital transformation and Vision 2030.
- It was recently estimated that Microsoft's technology ecosystem, coupled with Saudi Arabia's growing use of cloud services, will create 63,000 Microsoft jobs in Saudi Arabia by 2022.