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Google Employees Revolt Over Planned Censored Search Engine in China
A couple of weeks after The Intercept detailed Google’s controversial strategy to re-enter the Chinese market with a censored version of its search engine, an employee revolt appears to have put the brakes on the plan – or at least slowed it down.
The Wall Street Journal reported that while Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai defended the company’s plan to ramp up its business in China during an all-hands meeting last week, he also assured employees that it is “not close to launching a search product” in the country. About 1,400 Google employees signed a letter to management – obtained by the New York Times – demanding more transparency on ethical issues.
The Intercept‘s Ryan Ghallagher reported that the secret project – known as Dragonfly – was launched last spring and then “accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans.” According to the leaked documents, “Google’s Chinese search app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall,” which is the name given to China’s strict internet censorship laws.
In the letter signed by employees, they took Google’s management to task for not keeping them informed on its plans, noting that “the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret” and that most employees only learned about it through news reports.
And yet, for many Google employees, the plan to re-enter mainland China with a censored version of its search engine could prove difficult to accept, given the dramatic way the company shutdown its service there in 2010. Google said at the time that it was forced to leave the country because of sophisticated cyber attacks allegedly originating out of China.“[During] our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers,” Google said in a blog post announcing its decision to yank its service from the country.
While Pichai believes the company can have a “positive impact” in China, Brandon Downey, a former Google engineer, wrote an essay explaining how that reasoning was used the first time Google entered the market, noting “the company’s executives got employees to go along with their first push into China by arguing that giving the country’s citizens access to filtered results through a search engine was better than no Google search engine at all,” the Journal reports. Instead, Chinese authorities hacked Google to go after human rights activists and other dissidents.
The answer to this is NO, it will not give people access to a lot more information.
Fun fact: When google first entered China, the number of censored terms was in the low hundreds.
By the time it left, the tens of thousands.
Being there *didn't help*.
— Brandon Downey (@bdowney) August 16, 2018
Despite shutting down its search engine, Google has maintained a presence in the country with more than 700 employees based in China.
Photo: Getty iStock