Few Hardballs from Shareholders at Google’s Annual Meeting

Fri, May 14, 2010 at 9:58 am

    A Maryland woman drove 3,156 miles to beg Google to give her city high-speed Internet; usually reticent co-founder Larry Page showed up on stage; and CEO Eric Schmidt predicted Google’s planned new computer operating system would come to rival those of Microsoft and Apple.

    In short, Google’s annual shareholder meeting at the Googleplex in Mountain View, with the Internet search giant enjoying strong revenue growth again, was hardly a bruising affair.

    Perhaps the toughest shareholder question came from consumer advocate John Simpson, who asked Schmidt whether Google had agreed to a reported $700 million “kill fee” if Google’s $750 million acquisition of the mobile advertising company AdMob is rejected by government antitrust regulators. Schmidt neither confirmed or denied that number, but predicted the deal would be approved by the Federal Trade Commission, which is expected to rule in coming days.

    “We do not expect to pay any such fee,” Schmidt said. “From our perspective, this is a highly competitive market.”

    Schmidt also responded to a shareholder question about Google’s future in China, saying it remains uncertain. In March, Google starting offering access to uncensored search results from its servers in Hong Kong for Chinese Internet users on the mainland, a stance Google says complies with Chinese law but which has angered the government.

    “The situation seems to be stable,” Schmidt said.

    Page, when asked what the next big thing would be, talked about Google’s rapidly growing language translation services.Three shareholder resolutions were rejected. One would have required Google to file an annual report on environmental sustainability; a second would have required Google to get approval from users before tracking their online movements in order to target advertising. A third proposal would have established a “Human Rights Committee” to consider how Google’s actions in China and other countries affect human rights. Google opposed those resolutions, saying it was making a strong effort already in all three areas.

    Schmidt also talked up the planned new Chrome operating system, which is expected to allow a computer to boot up in a matter of seconds, when it is released toward the end of 2010.

    “In my opinion, it’s likely to become a third platform of choice,” along with the PC and the Mac, Schmidt said. Because of its speed, simplicity and security, Google’s Chrome web browser is also moving toward having “a very, very significant share of the market by the end of the year. Its growth rate is phenomenal.”

    The last shareholder question of the afternoon came from Elaine Kessinger, who spent six days driving her 1989 jeep with an “I’m Feeling Lucky” license plate holder from her home in Frederick, Md, to entreat Google to choose her city to receive a free high-speed broadband network.

    “Everyone in my city thinks I’m crazy,” Kessinger told Schmidt, “but please pick us.”

    Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648.

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