One of the biggest stories of the week was the disappearance - and presumed murder - of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. There is so much to explore in this story that I won’t dwell on the broader geopolitical consequences, such as Trump’s (belated) threats
and Saudi Arabia’s counterthreats
, nor the potential US domestic repercussions
(though all those links are worth a read).
What I want to focus on is Silicon Valley’s ethical quandary. Saudi Arabia is the biggest backer of Softbank’s Vision Fund (previously discussed
), which has become the most powerful tech investor in the world, with billions at work in Uber, Slack, WeWork and others. And, until this week, Silicon Valley luminaries were lining up
to advise the Kingdom on its tech aspirations - not to mention the deep and extensive links between Saudi and Stanford University
(fascinating piece from April).
Is that tenable any more if the Khashoggi case breaks the camel’s back and Saudi Arabia becomes a pariah? A powerfully argued piece
in the NYT argues no, but it’s not clear whether Silicon Valley can take the tough choices needed to extricate itself. The Softbank offer is increasingly “take our money or we’ll give it to your competitors
” - a choice that presumably leaves few founders asking difficult questions about the ultimate source of the funds.