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Google employees demand transparency over Google China search engine

Hundreds of Google employees have submitted a letter to its management demanding ‘more transparency and a commitment to clear and open processes’ among other things with respect to Google’s Dragonfly project. Dragonfly will reportedly bring a censored version of the search engine to China. The search company refused to comment on the project and/or the employee letter.

The letter, circulating internally, is signed by 1,400 Google employees who have “ethical and moral concerns” with Google’s willingness to censor content and abide by China’s stringent censorship laws. Employees have written that they don’t have information required “to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”

Google’s plan to re-enter China became public two weeks ago when it was reported that the company has been developing a mobile search app which would abide by China’s censorship laws. Work on the project, code-named Dragonfly, has been ongoing secretly since 2017, raising concerns among employees that they have been unknowingly contributing to a project which will withhold information from the Chinese people. “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 letter said.

Meanwhile, at this week’s staff meeting at Google, the company’s leadership answered a few questions about the project Dragonfly. But they shut down the topic when they realized that some employees were leaking their comments to reporters. Google CEO Sundar Pichai had said in the meeting that the project is in early and “exploratory” stage and is nowhere close to launch. “We are not close to launching a search product in China,” Pichai said, according to Bloomberg. “And whether we would do so or could so is all very unclear.”

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“I think there are a lot of times when people are in exploratory stages where teams are debating and doing things, so sometimes being fully transparent at that stage can cause issues,” Pichai added, according to Buzzfeed News. “So I do think there are genuine issues teams are grappling with. We are as a company, I think, more committed to transparency than probably any company in the world.”

Dragonfly will blacklist specific search terms

Project Dragonfly was accelerated following Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s meeting with a top Chinese government official. The censored search engine will reportedly blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest. The alleged product will block social media services already banned in China including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, websites about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, international media such as the BBC and New York Times, Wall Street Journal, references to “anticommunism” and “dissidents”, mentions of books that negatively portray authoritarian governments, like George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.

Before knowledge of the Dragonfly project was public, only a few hundred out of 88,000 Google employees were privy to the China project .

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