More than 1,000 Google workers protest censored China search

Roman Schwartz
August 18, 2018

"We are not close to launching a search product in China", Mr Pichai said.

Some employees are said to be in favor of re-entering China, saying the decision to exit didn't really cause much trouble to local authorities and Google is missing out on the worlds largest base of internet users.

Google employees are also sounding the alarm. In April, the internet company's employees spoke out against its involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to improve weaponry.

In June, Google decided against renewing a U.S. military contract called Project Maven after staff penned a separate letter.

Google withdrew from China four years ago in protest at government censorship, which its co-founder Sergey Brin described as having the hallmarks of Soviet totalitarianism. Much of the concern over the China project, codenamed Dragonfly, has centered on the company's secrecy of it, with employees telling some outlets that the company has instructed those working on the project to keep it a secret from other staff. Google's employees said they need more information to determine whether it raises "urgent moral and ethical issues".

The letter reportedly calls on executives to review the ethics and transparency at the company. An organization whose leadership declares a Code Yellow would identify a person to "own" the problem and an executive to oversee the process of solving it.

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Google declined to comment on the letter.

Activists have long sought to circumvent the effects of the Chinese government's pervasive censorship methods.

Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more "transparency, oversight and accountability", according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday. Yet most of us only learned about project Dragonfly through news reports [in] early August. They said the plans could be in violation the company's ethics code, which bars it from building or deploying technology that violates human rights. Pichai pledged transparency as the development process advances and cast the potential for business in China as a boost to Google's mission.

According to the New York Times, Google employees are anxious that they have been unwittingly working to facilitate a strictly-controlled internet for Chinese users that could block search access to topics such as human rights and environmental protection. A possible re-entry to China, according to current and former employees, is a sign of a more mature and pragmatic company. While it still maintains offices in the country, it has been seeking to increase its presence. Google now has more than 700 employees in China.

TAKING A STAND. Apparently, Google employees were not happy to hear about Dragonfly. The government would have to approve its return and it has kept USA technology firms like Facebook at arm's length, opting instead to work closely with homegrown internet behemoths.

Google has always been a hub for curious minds, keen to know more about how the world works, and what it has to offer. If anything, China has only tightened its controls in the last eight years - leaving the company in a bind for how to justify its return. The app is said to comply with Chinese government censorship guidelines.

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