28 Nov 2018

Google employees push to stop censored Chinese search engine plan

10:59 am on 28 November 2018

Eleven employees including engineers and managers at Alphabet Inc's Google published an open letter, demanding that the company end development of a censored search engine for Chinese users, escalating earlier protests against the secretive project.

Mountain View, CA, USA - August 15, 2016: close up of Google sign on one of the Google buildings.

Photo: 123RF

Google has described the search app, known as Project Dragonfly, as an experiment not close to launching. But as details of it have leaked since August, current and former employees, human rights activists and US lawmakers have criticized Google for not taking a harder line against the Chinese government's policy that politically sensitive results be blocked.

Human rights group Amnesty International also launched a public petition calling on Google to cancel Dragonfly. The organisation said it would encourage Google workers to sign the petition by targeting them on LinkedIn and protesting outside Google offices.

About 1400 of Google's tens of thousands of workers urged the company in August to improve oversight of ethically questionable ventures, including Dragonfly.

Google has long sought to have a bigger presence in China, the world's largest internet market. It needs government approval to compete with the country's dominant home-grown internet services.

The employees who signed their names on Tuesday's letter said they had seen little progress, and expect more colleagues to publicly back the push to cancel Dragonfly.

The letter expresses concern about the Chinese government tracking dissidents through search data and suppressing truth through content restrictions.

"We object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be," the employees said in the letter published on blogging service Medium.

The employees said they no longer believe Google is "a company willing to place its values over profits," and cited a string of "disappointments" this year, including acknowledgement of a big payout to an executive who had been accused of sexual harassment.

That incident sparked global protests at Google, which like other big technology companies has seen an increase in employee activism during the last two years as their services become an integral part of civic infrastructure.

Google was not immediately available for comment.

- Reuters

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