Google staff protest over China search engine plans

Ivan Schwartz
August 18, 2018

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.

The letter says employees lack the information required "to make ethically informed decisions about our work" and complains that most employees only found out about the project - nicknamed Dragonfly - through media reports. "I think if we were to do our mission well, I think we have to think seriously about how we do more in China".

The letter is similar to one thousands of employees had signed in protest of Project Maven, a USA military contract that Google decided in June not to renew.

"We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we're building", the signed letter reads. After Google said it would not renew its contract with the Pentagon, it unveiled a series of ethical principles governing its use of AI.

Google did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Undersigned Googlers expect future projects to have an ethics review structure that includes rank and file employee representatives; an ombudspeople; a clear plan to enable Googlers an individual ethical choice; and an ethical assessment of Dragonfly, among other projects.

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If the plan is approved, it would take as long as 14 months to build, the company said, though it expects it would be "much less". First, it doesn't need to worry about raising funds for the Dugout Loop - the company plans to pay for the project on its own.

Although Pichai has dismissed reports about not being "close to" launching the search engine, there have been confirmed reports about Google actually working on a censored version. 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.

The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006.

However, eventually Google pulled out of China completely in 2010 after several large-scale attacks on the company purportedly by the Chinese government.

It is the world's most populous country with an economy on steroids. "I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world, and I don't see any reason why that would be different in China", Pichai said, according to Bloomberg.

Google now has no presence in China after it removed itself in 2010 over censorship concerns.

The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google.

Other reports by GizPress

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