Google workers protest against secret China search engine 'Dragonfly'

Monday, 20 Aug, 2018

Last year, Google announced it was opening an AI outpost in China.

But in a transcript seen by Reuters, Google's Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told employees "it's all very unclear" whether Google would return to China at all.

The company's willingness to co-operate with strict Communist Party restrictions on the internet raises "urgent moral and ethical issues", according to a letter signed by 1,400 employees.

A Google spokesman did not immediately respond to questions.

You can read the full letter below. The letter also demands that rank-and-file workers be part of the review structure.

The letter also calls for a "Code Yellow" at Google - internal lingo for a serious situation that bears immediate attention.

Google's interest in China and bringing search back to the country resurfaced with reports that the company is working on a search app, and gaining aid from a director company, 265.com, that it acquired in 2008.

Reports about Dragonfly, a censored search app, compelled over 1000 Google employees to petition against its launch in China.

This kind of censorship is widely regarded as a human rights violation.

The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006.

"Then the Chinese government can say, 'Google is OK with it too, '" he said.

This isn't the first time Google's been in hot water with its employees; back in April, thousands of staff rallied against a programme which developed AI for United States military drones.

It is the second time this year that Google staff have protested against the company's plans. In that instance, the protest proved fruitful, with Google deciding to terminate its AI contract with the Pentagon.

The outrage is understandable: some of the Google employees have only found out about the existence of the project from the press, instead of being notified internally by their bosses. Pichai responded by releasing a set of principles created to govern the company's future decisions on AI.

Some of the tension that has lingered at the company - including an earlier controversy regarding Google's work with the military - resurfaced at Thursday's meeting.

Below is a transcription of the letter.

Sundar speaking to Googlers now at all-hands about Dragonfly: "If we were to do our mission well, we are to think seriously about how to do more in China".

Codenamed "Dragonfly", Google's experimental search engine has apparently been under development since 2017.

In the email through which the letter was being circulated, two employees said that individuals "organizing against the latest dubious project can not be our only safeguard against unethical decisions", according to BuzzFeed News.