A group of Google employees published an open letter to their employer on Tuesday, calling for an end to Google’s planned censored Chinese search engine. The 11 co-signees are mostly engineers and joined Amnesty International’s day of action criticizing Google’s creation of the censored search engine.
Amnesty International, Google employees, and experts say that it would enable human rights abuses in China, and potentially help codify a censored internet in other countries that demand it.
“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” the Google employees wrote.
The search engine, codenamed Project Dragonfly, would provide Google to China’s citizens, with a dose of government censorship and surveillance. The Intercept first reported on the undertaking in August.
After attempts to quash reports and internal criticism of the matter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai confirmed the existence of the project in October, saying that “It turns out we’ll be able to serve well over 99 percent of the queries.”
That missing 1 percent? The Intercept reports that on behalf of the Chinese government, Google would blacklist searches of terms including “human rights,” “Nobel Prize,” and “student protest.” It would also reportedly link Chinese users to their mobile numbers, and provide that information, along with their search history and activity, to a company that would in turn report that to the government.
Google previously ended its search business in China in 2010, citing human rights abuses. Though China’s authoritarian regime has strengthened in recent years, it apparently reversed that decision. Employees cited an unsatisfactory explanation for this change as one of the reasons they were speaking out.
“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” the employees wrote. “After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.”
The Google employees joined Amnesty International in their protest, which mobilized on Tuesday to send a message to Google — including a scathing video. The employees and the advocacy organization have launched a petition calling for the end of the project.
“If Google is willing to trade human rights for profit in China, could they do the same in other countries,” reads the petition. “Stand in solidarity with the staff members at Google who have protested the project and tell CEO Sundar Pichai to #DropDragonfly before it can be launched.”
Pichai previously stated that China was too big of a market to pass up, and that Google is not a democracy.
“Throughout Google’s history, we’ve given our employees a lot of voice and say, but we don’t we don’t run the company by holding referendums,” Pichai said in October.
Employee protests on how Google handled sexual misconduct incidents, and a larger culture of discrimination at Google, recently prompted changes to Google’s sexual abuse reporting and other processes.
That same impact of employee voices on Google policy might not apply when it comes to Project Dragonfly. But that’s not stopping Google employees and advocates from trying.
“Google is too powerful not to be held accountable,” the employees wrote. “We deserve to know what we’re building and we deserve a say in these significant decisions.”