Google employees are unhappy, and more insistent than ever that the company cease moving forward with any plans it might have to produce a China-friendly search engine that features government-sponsored censorship. In a move published by The Verge, “Google employees push to cancel Chinese search engine in new letter.”
“Google employees have renewed their public protests against ‘Project Dragonfly,’ a censored and surveillance-enabling search app that Google is reportedly building for the Chinese market. An open letter, published on Medium today, says Dragonfly would make Google complicit in human rights abuses by the Chinese government. It urges Google leadership to cancel the project and accuses them of ignoring repeated employee complaints.”
To be clear, Google employees believe that when information is withheld that should be freely available, it is a human rights abuse. This is a strong accusation prompted by the fact that they do not believe they have been heard with their previous efforts. They are now taking the fight public with this open letter published on Medium.
It could be that Google did not feel the earlier efforts represented a large enough percentage of the employees. The earlier letter circulated internally and was signed by over a thousand. There are currently over 53,600 working at Google and 2 percent does not exactly represent a majority.
What is at stake for these employees is surveillance and censorship. China will have even more tools to track their citizens and punish those who do not hold faithfully to the party line. Political dissenters will find life even more difficult.
Beyond surveillance is the core value of censorship. Google is the company that overturned the publishing industry a few years ago by publishing works in their entirety online. They believed that information should be freely available to everyone.
That was the kind of action that attracted many of their current employees in the first place. It naturally does not sit well with them that Google now wants to help a totalitarian state stifle what is otherwise freely available information so that the government can better artificially control and dominate their people. The employees believe that giving in to the dictates of Chinese law “would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses.”
The letter goes on to say that they refuse to be a part of building the technologies that “aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be.” This is a strongly worded protest that leaves little room for negotiation. This group of employees will accept no compromise. For them, the project must be terminated.
For its part, Google says they are nearly exploring possibilities, and that they are not close to launching a search product in China.