Google employees demand Google stop working on censored research in China

CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, in 2017.
Enlarge / CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, in 2017.

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Dozens of Google employees have signed an open letter asking Google to stop working on Project Dragonfly, a censored version of Google's search engine that can be deployed in mainland China.

The existence of the project was revealed by the Intercept in August. Shortly after, Google CEO Sundar Pichai claimed that the company was "not about to launch a research product" in China, but it did not rule out # 39; future.

If Google were to launch a censored search engine, it would represent a dramatic reversal for a company that would have closed its Chinese search engine to censorship concerns as early as 2010.

"Many of us have accepted a job at Google keeping in mind the values ​​of the company, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and understanding that Google was a company willing to put its values ​​above its profits, "wrote the employees in protest on Tuesday. Medium post.

"Our opposition to Dragonfly does not concern China," added the employees. "We oppose technologies that help the powerful to oppress the vulnerable, wherever they are."

Early Internet evangelists hoped that the Internet would undermine oppressive governments by allowing the free flow of information. But the Chinese authoritarian regime has understood how to use Internet technologies to strengthen its power. The country has put in place a sophisticated infrastructure for online surveillance and censorship.

Part of China's strategy has forced online services operating in China to comply with China's censorship laws. For search engines, this means censoring search results on sensitive topics.

"The Chinese government is openly expanding its surveillance powers and its tools to control the population," Googlers protesters wrote on Tuesday.

For eight years, Google has refused to cooperate with these efforts. Until recently, Google was downplaying its physical footprint in the country to avoid giving the Chinese government the leverage that would result from the presence of offices and employees on the Chinese mainland.

But China is a big market. And under the leadership of Sundar Pichai, Google seems to soften its uncompromising position. Last December, Google opened a research center in Beijing. The company began offering a Chinese version of a file management application originally designed for the Indian market. It is an application designed for customers with limited storage on the device.

"I want to serve users around the world in every corner.Google addresses everyone," Pichai said in 2016. "We want to be in China and serve Chinese users."

The big question is whether entering the Chinese market would force Google to check its values ​​at the door.

"Google is too powerful not to be held responsible," wrote Google dissident staff. "We deserve to know what we are building and we deserve to have our say in these important decisions."

The list of signatories is expanding rapidly. The publication initially contained 12 names when it was published early Tuesday morning, but as of the publication of this story, it has up to 130 names. The authors say that they will continue to add names as more people sign up.

Google has had an increasingly conflictual relationship with its own employees over the last few months. Earlier this year, more than 3,000 Googlers signed a letter asking Pichai to suspend work on a military drone project. A dozen employees left Google to protest the project. The latter finally decided not to renew his contract with the army.

Google has also faced protests against the treatment of sexual misconduct. Earlier this month, thousands of employees came out to protest reports that the company made significant gains to outgoing executives allegedly charged with sexual misconduct. These protests also had an impact, as Google removed the mandatory arbitration clause from its employment contract in the sexual misconduct cases.

"We have been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from the development of Android to mobile applications such as Google Translate and Files Go, to our development tools," Google said in a statement. "But our work on research has been exploratory and we are about to launch a research product in China."

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