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Ex-Google Employee Sends U.S. Lawmakers Scathing Letter About Company's Plans to Build Censored Search Engine in China
A former Google employee, who quit the company partly in protest of a secret plan to build a censored version of its search engine in China, sent a scathing letter to U.S. lawmakers urging them to question Google’s leadership about its operations – especially when it comes to oversight, transparency and data privacy protection.
Dr. Jack Poulson, who worked as a senior research scientist in Google’s Research and Machine Intelligence division, indicated in his letter to members of the Senate Commerce Committee that he quit his position on Aug. 31 “in the wake of a pattern of unethical and unaccountable decision making from company leadership.” This culminated, Dr. Poulson wrote, “in their refusal to disclose information about Project Dragonfly,” which is the name given to the secret project to build a search engine that adheres to the censorship laws in China.
Dr. Poulson adds that he first learned about Project Dragonfly on Aug. 1, which is when The Intercept published its report on the secret effort. Google shutdown its service in mainland China back in 2010 because of sophisticated cyber attacks allegedly originating out of the country.
In his letter, Poulson also notes that Project Dragonfly had been “well underway” by the time Google CEO Sundar Pichai released the company’s AI Principles, which states in part that the company would not develop AI technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” However, as Poulson points out, 14 human rights organizations wrote an open letter to Google on Aug. 28, calling Project Dragonfly “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights.”
The letter noted that the “Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy,” and by launching a censored search engine in the country “Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China.”
The revelation of the secret project by The Intercept led to an open revolt by Google employees, with 1,400 workers signing a letter to management demanding more transparency on ethical issues.
“Here, we address an underlying structural problem: currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment,” the letter said.
They added that they “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.”
Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer, testified on Wednesday before a Senate committee hearing on data protection. Enright was specifically singled out by Dr. Poulson as an executive who should be brought in to speak with lawmakers.
The New York Times reported that Pichai was set to meet on Friday with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican and “vocal critic of Google.”
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