Silicon Valley’s reticence over Khashoggi’s murder puts focus on Saudi funding | Tech Industry

The brutal murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly on orders from the Saudi Government, has shaken much of the world with the sheer brazenness of the attack. While governments are already struggling with finding an adequate response to the allegations, Silicon Valley’s on the matter has also been noted.

As it turns out, Silicon Valley appears to be struggling with the exact same issue that world governments are struggling with: How do you bite the hand that feeds you?

When it comes to world governments, even one as “powerful” as the US, only Saudi Arabia can feed their oil habits. The country has also made significant investments all over the world, to the tune of billions of dollars. As brazen and as brutal as the attack on Khashoggi was, dependant governments will shy away from taking too strong a stance against the Saudis.

WSJ journalist and Saudi dissident was kidnapped and brutally murdered following a visit to the Saudi embassy in Turkey. Image: Reuters

Washington Post contributor and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was kidnapped and brutally murdered following a visit to the Saudi embassy in Turkey. Image: Reuters

As pointed out by various reports, Saudi Arabia currently has its fingers deeply embedded in Silicon Valley. As The New York Times notes, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) in particular is responsible for fuelling some of Silicon Valley’s largest, most popular companies. Saudi-funded companies include Uber, Nvidia, WeWork, Tesla, Slack, among others. Much of this comes via Japan’s SoftBank, but SoftBank is, in turn, using funds from PIF.

“Remarkably, the country has avoided pariah status in the United States thanks to our thirst for oil, Riyadh’s carefully cultivated ties with Washington, its big arms purchases, and the two countries’ shared interest in counterterrorism. But lately the Saudis have been growing their circle of American enablers, pouring billions into Silicon Valley technology companies,” says NYT.

While there have been reports of investors and companies getting cold feet and now attempting to distance themselves from the Saudi investment, the fact remains that billions of dollars in Saudi money is now invested in Silicon Valley’s biggest companies. In the case of Uber, PIF managing director Yasir Al Rumayyan is on the board of directors, which is understandable, given PIF’s $3.5 bn investment in the company.

“Beyond funding, there are other potential deals with big tech,” reports Wired. They note that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been touring the US and has even been in talks with Amazon for setting up infrastructure in his country.

At this time, Silicon Valley’s only reaction, including Uber’s, has been to back out of a Saudi Government investment conference in Riyadh.

While it certainly would have been nice to see more of a reaction from Silicon Valley, it must be noted that these companies have rarely taken up a cause that didn’t have enough public outrage behind it.

Google’s military contracts, Facebook’s support for genocidal dictators and even Microsoft’s and Google’s contracts within China are as much of an ethical conundrum as denouncing Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

To be clear, no actual evidence has yet been found linking Khashoggi’s murder to the Saudi government.

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