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Google's CEO Doubles Down On Plan For Censored Search Engine in China
Google’s controversial plan to attempt re-entering China with a censored version of its search engine was met by a backlash from within its ranks – with both current and former employees expressing dismay.
However, despite the blowback, Google’s executive team shows no signs of backing down from its plans. In fact, while speaking at the WIRED 25 Summit this week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai dug in his heels on why he thinks re-entering the Chinese market would be a positive step for the company.
While onstage at the event, Pichai did not back away from Google’s controversial decision to build a censored search engine in China. In fact, he doubled down on the search engine, codenamed Project Dragonfly, saying the potential to expose the world to more information is guiding Google’s push into China. “We are compelled by our mission [to] provide information to everyone, and [China is] 20 percent of the world’s population.”
Pichai was careful to emphasize that this was a decision that weighs heavy on the company. “People don’t understand fully, but you’re always balancing a set of values,” in every new country, he said. Those values include providing access to information, freedom of expression, and user privacy. “But we also follow the rule of law in every country,” he said.
According to The Intercept, which first reported on Project Dragonfly, Google “will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest” from its censored search engine. The Intercept‘s Ryan Ghallagher reports 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.”
Google will also reportedly build an Android app that “will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable.” These strict internet censorship laws – dubbed the Great Firewall – has prevented Google’s search engine from being accessed in mainland China.
When it shutdown its service in mainland China back in 2010, Google did so 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.
About 1,400 Google employees signed a letter to management – obtained by the New York Times – demanding more transparency on ethical issues. In the letter, 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.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jack Poulson, who worked as a senior research scientist in Google’s Research and Machine Intelligence division, sent a 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.”
Dr. Paulson urged U.S. lawmakers to question Google’s leadership about its operations – especially when it comes to oversight, transparency and data privacy protection.