Google Employees Call for Company to Abandon Its Censored Chinese Search Engine

“We object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable,” employees say in an open letter

Last Updated: November 27, 2018 @ 3:32 PM

Dozens of Google employees on Tuesday are publicly calling for the tech giant to abandon building its censored Chinese search engine.

The project, internally dubbed “Project Dragonfly,” has brought Google widespread criticism since The Intercept reported in August that the search engine would blacklist queries around democracy, human rights and peaceful protests.

As of 9:00 a.m. PT on Tuesday, 60 employees had signed the open letter on Medium saying that Google must cancel the project.

“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 letter said. “The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”

A Google spokesperson told TheWrap the company’s “work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

Google initially left China in 2010 over censorship and cybersecurity concerns. China’s rigid online censorship — facetiously called the “Great Firewall” —  has stifled free speech online for years through a network of moderators, technical restraints and legislative regulations. The Chinese government blocks access to pornography and news stories that are overly critical of its communist regime, as well as major sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

But under the guidance of CEO Sundar Pichai, the world’s dominant search engine has in recent years looked to reenter the market. Google has been skewered by both the U.S. Congress and human rights organizations — including Amnesty International, which the employees referenced in their Tuesday letter — in recent months for showing a willingness to bow to China’s draconian internet rules. “It turns out we’ll be able to serve well over 99 percent of the queries,” Pichai said last month in support of Dragonfly while speaking at the Wired 25 Summit.

This answer didn’t satiate many Google employees who fear a censored search engine would only help the Chinese government crackdown on dissenting voices.

“Dragonfly would also enable censorship and government-directed disinformation, and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely,” the open letter continued. “Given the Chinese government’s reported suppression of dissident voices, such controls would likely be used to silence marginalized people, and favor information that promotes government interests.”