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Google workers sign letter seeking end to China search engine project

Project Dragonfly, as the initiative is known, would enable state surveillance at a time when the Chinese government is expanding controls over the population, according to the letter signed by at least 10 workers,.

tech Updated: Nov 27, 2018 21:35 IST
Mark Bergen
Mark Bergen
Bloomberg, San Francisco
Amnesty International activists hold a giant dragonfly-shaped balloon with a banner reading
Amnesty International activists hold a giant dragonfly-shaped balloon with a banner reading "Google, do not censor in China, no to the Dragonfly project" during a protest outside the Google headquarters in Madrid on November 27.(AFP Photo)
         

A group of Google employees has signed a public letter calling on the company to abandon its plans for a Chinese search product that censors results.

Project Dragonfly, as the initiative is known, would enable state surveillance at a time when the Chinese government is expanding controls over the population, according to the letter signed by at least 10 workers, predominately software engineers and researchers. The document also called on management to commit to transparency, be accountable and provide clear communication.

Ever since plans for Dragonfly emerged in August, Google parent Alphabet Inc. has been riven by internal dissent at the prospect of a search engine bending to Beijing’s censorship. It was that sort of government control that prompted co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to effectively pull out of China in 2010 when it decided to stop removing controversial links from web queries.

“We refuse to build technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” the Google workers wrote in the letter. “Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the letter and said the China search project has only been “exploratory.”

This isn’t the only issue Google employees have spoken out against. Earlier this month, thousands of workers walked out of their office to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints. Earlier this year, another petition helped push the company into cancelling a military contract. The most recent letter is different though, because the employees are adding their real names, whereas earlier dissent had largely been anonymous.

Re-entering China has been a key goal of Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai. In 2016 a small team that included Pichai began working on China-related projects, including Dragonfly, to bring Google’s search engine back into the country.

The decision was met with pushback from both Google engineers and executives. Alphabet Inc. Chairman John Hennessy has said he’s not confident Google will be better off bringing a censored search engine.

The signatories of the letter said they joined the company conscious of its previous position on Chinese censorship and Google’s willingness to place “values above its profits.”

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

First Published: Nov 27, 2018 21:34 IST

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