Saudi Arabia is investing big bucks in Silicon Valley; Here’s why that matters

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Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
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A foreign government with a history of human rights abuses is currently buying influence over one of the most important sectors of American society. It’s not what you might think. I’m not talking about Russia, the media’s obsession du jour. I’m talking about Saudi Arabia.

 

Last October, The New York Times published a story detailing how Saudi Arabia has been buying large stakes in American technology companies.

 

Here’s the scoop: the Saudi government controls what’s called a Public Investment Fund, which is what the kingdom is using to expand its reach into new economic sectors globally. That fund pumped as much as $45 billion in 2017 alone into a Japanese technology fund called Softbank, run by Masayoshi Son, who is the founder and current CEO of the company. It’s through Softbank, according to the Times, that the Saudis have been quietly investing big bucks into American technology companies.

 

And they’ve bought into some of the most recognizable tech companies on the market today: Wag, Doordash, Nvidia. In fact, they’re said to be the largest shareholder of the PR-plagued Uber.

 

Softbank is also investing heavily in WeWork, the co-working real estate company that has recently rebranded itself, and in the process, made news for co-opting the name of the Toronto based charitable non-profit, WE Charity. Many people have publicly called out WeWork for this brand change as it appears the company is moving into the same sectors in which WE is currently engaged, spinning off similarly named business lines like WeLive and WeGrow to their operation.

 

Foreign countries trying to diversify their economy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But let’s remember who we’re talking about here.

 

Just last year, the Saudi government blatantly murdered journalist and American green-card holder Jamal Kashoggi [editor’s note: Khashoggi was not a green card holder, he was in the US on an O visa and in the process of applying for a green card] and then lied about it. They beheaded 48 people in just the first four months of 2018. They continue to commit human rights violations against women and minority groups in the country.

 

It’s concerning, to say the least, that these same people are trying to bankroll American tech companies. America’s internet sector claims to espouse the values of openness and freedom to the world. What does it say if these same companies are partly owned by one of the least open, least free nations in the world?

 

Firebrand Senator Lindsey Graham has the right idea when it comes to how to deal with Saudi Arabia. In an interview last fall, Graham promised to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.” And he’s not backing down. Recently, Graham renewed his call to “deal with” the Saudi issue.

 

His colleague in the Senate, Rand Paul has called for the U.S. to halt arms deals with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Kashoggi debacle.

 

The U.S. should reconsider its relationship with the Saudi Kingdom.

 

Matt Cordio is the President of Startup Milwaukee.