The growing popularity of virtual-only shareholder meetings isn’t sitting well with shareholders.

In the latest round of the debate, the Securities and Exchange Commission backed the right of companies to decide on the format of annual meetings.

The regulator in December told HP Inc. it could drop an investor proposal objecting to virtual-only meetings. The proposal called for a shareholder vote on restoring in-person annual meetings.

A virtual meeting can done over the phone, online or by using a combination of both. Shareholders log into a special website using a code or pin number to cast their votes and ask executives and board members questions.

In granting HP’s no action letter request, the SEC reaffirmed its earlier position, that company boards of directors can decide whether the annual meetings should be virtual-only or in-person.

The SEC declined to comment beyond the staff’s response in the letter.

HP Inc. declined to comment. However the law firm representing HP, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said it’s likely more companies will follow HP’s lead.

“Given the potential cost savings and flexibility that can be achieved from holding virtual-only annual meetings, we expect that more companies will choose to hold virtual-only annual meetings in the near future,” Lori Zyskowski, Elizabeth Ising and Ronald Mueller from Gibson Dunn said in a blog post. Ms. Zyskowski represented HP in the matter.

Companies can also save money on swag. While some companies, such as Berkshire Hathaway Inc., are known for lavishing gifts on shareholders at the annual meeting, many companies have been cutting back on these expenses in recent years. An attendee of Alphabet Inc.’s annual meeting in June complained that the company wasn’t giving out bags, caps or mugs, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Last year, 187 companies used the services of Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc., the main provider of virtual shareholder meeting technology, to hold virtual shareholder meetings. This is up from 28 companies in 2010.

Virtual shareholder meetings have grown in popularity despite opposition from groups including the Council of Institutional Investors (CII)  and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, as well as individual investors. Critics say that companies could use the technology to limit shareholder participation, allowing executives to cherry pick shareholder questions and avoid addressing critical issues.

The HP proposal was lodged by John Chevedden, an activist investor who earned his corporate gadfly bones by filing hundreds of shareholder proposals aimed at strengthening shareholder rights, corporate governance and transparency.

“A cloud meeting gives a company wide latitude to muzzle shareholders during the mandatory annual meeting,” Mr. Chevedden said in a letter to the SEC regarding his HP proposal.

“As shareholders we believe it is important for companies to have in person stockholder meetings where investors can ask questions and speak before management and the Board,” Mr. Chevedden said in an email to CFO Journal. “Our request for annual in person meetings should be seen as basic good governance and not a minor administrative detail.”