More than 300 Google staff have signed an open letter to the company calling on it to cancel an ongoing project to create a censored search engine for the Chinese government, dubbed Project Dragonfly.
First leaked to the public in September, Project Dragonfly is a Google initiative to break into the lucrative Chinese market where the search market is currently dominated by native Baidu. To do that, though, it's reported to be working hand-in-hand with the Chinese government to build in a variety of anti-features including censorship of key sites and phrases and the requirement for all users to have registered their telephone numbers - and thus identities - with the service so that each search can be tied to a particular citizen.
It's not hard to see why privacy and human rights campaigners are up in arms about Dragonfly, and now Google's own staff have sounded the alarm: More than 300 engineers, managers, advocates, analysts, writers, and designers have come together to sign a joint letter in support of Amnesty International's campaign to get Google to drop the project.
'We are Google employees and we join Amnesty International in calling on Google to cancel project Dragonfly, Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance,' the letter, published on Medium late yesterday, reads. 'We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months. International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project. So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.
'Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. 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.'
Claiming that the project, as currently understood, would 'make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses [and] enable censorship and government-directed disinformation', the staff are calling for the project's cancellation. 'We also demand that leadership commit to transparency, clear communication, and real accountability,' the letter concludes. 'Google is too powerful not to be held accountable. We deserve to know what we’re building and we deserve a say in these significant decisions.'
Google, which has only just got a handle on a walkout protest over mishandling of sexual harassment complaints at the company, has not publicly commented on the letter.
February 17 2020 | 09:00