Over 200 Google employees have joined Amnesty International and called on the company to cancel Project Dragonfly, its secret search engine for China, in a Medium post. “So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory,” says the post, explaining that they are among the thousands of employees who have spoken up. They add that other international human rights organizations have also raised alarm over human rights concerns, and called on Google to cancel the project.

The letter was originally signed by 12 Google employees, who disclosed their names and roles in the company. Within hours, the number increased to around 248 Google employees, along with their names and roles.

The letter points out that the employees’ objection to Dragonfly is not about China, but ‘the technology which aids the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable.’

“The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent,” the letter reads. “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,” it added.

The Google employees object for several reasons:

  • Dragonfly would establish a precedent, which would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions
  • The project would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuse as Chinese law requires that the companies provide access to user data.
    • The is in light of the Chinese government’s expanding surveillance and population control, with the backing of advanced technology, personal records, mass monitoring and combining online activity.
  • The project would enable censorship and government-directed disinformation and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely.
    • The employees explain that internet controls would likely to be used to “silence marginalized people, and favor information that promotes government interests.”

The letter states that the employees no longer feel that Google is willing to place its values above profits, explaining that it has been a “year of disappointments” with Project Maven, Google’s support for abusers, and Dragonfly.

An earlier letter was signed by 1,400 employees

In August, just days after news of Project Dragonfly was reported, hundreds of Google employees had submitted a letter to its management demanding ‘more transparency and a commitment to clear and open processes’ with respect to Dragonfly, among other things. Unlike this time, the letter was circulating internally, and was signed by at least 1,400 people who said they had “ethical and moral concerns” with Google’s willingness to censor content and abide by China’s stringent censorship laws. They said that they didn’t have the information required “to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”

Project Dragonfly: a censored search engine

News of Google’s censored search engine for China surfaced in August, when the Intercept reported that Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest. Internal Google documents revealed that the project had been underway since 2017.