Google staff condemn plan for censored Chinese search engine

Sergey Brin

Sergey BrinMore

Addressing this, Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai told employees at a meeting that plans to re-enter China with a search engine are "exploratory" and in "early stages".

Following similar action against secretive AI drone imaging program for the United States military, Project Maven, Googlers are once again organising internally to push back against their leadership - this time around a project dubbed Dragonfly, the proposed search product the company intends to build for the Chinese market in accordance with government-mandated censorship.

Employee anger flared with a report this month in The Intercept that Google is secretly building a search engine that will filter content banned in China and thus meet Beijing's tough censorship rules. Google spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

"Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment", the workers say.

Web users in China can't access Google's service because the government there blocks it as part of its sweeping censorship infrastructure, known as the "Great Firewall".

China has the world's largest Internet audience but has frustrated U.S. tech giants with content restrictions or outright blockages of services including Facebook and Instagram.

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"I think the team are exploring many options", Sundar Pichai said of the project. It follows similar efforts by Google employees to challenge the internet giant's Pentagon work, which had raised concerns about involvement in weapons development.

Outrage stems both from the nature of Dragonfly - a product that some employees feel violates the AI Principles - and that many employees only learned about the search product's existence from news reports, rather than their own bosses.

Google's last foray into the Chinese market, from 2005 to 2010, ended in a public falling out over censorship and an alleged hacking scandal.

"China is one-fifth of the world's population".

Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.

"I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don't see any reason why that would be different in China", Pichai said.

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