Nov 27, 2018

Google employees ask company to walk away from China project

Google signage at a convention in China. Photo: Zhang Yuanyuan/VCG via Getty Images

A growing group of Google employees have signed on to a letter asking their employer to end its “Dragonfly” project aimed at creating a censored version of its search project for the Chinese market.

Why it matters: The letter, which was initially published Tuesday and is being updated with more signatures on an ongoing basis, is the latest example of employee activism at the tech giant. A walkout staged by its employees over the company’s poor handling of sexual harassment cases was successful in pushing the company to announce some policy changes, although not all the organizers' demands were met.

What they’re saying: The employees said they are worried that enabling the Dragonfly project in China would "would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions" around censorship. The employees wrote in the letter:

“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits. After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.”

A Google spokesperson referred Axios to an earlier statement on its work in China.

  • “We've been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools,” the spokesperson said. “But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”
  • The company pulled its search product in the country over censorship concerns in 2010.

The other coast: Google CEO Sundar Pichai has agreed to testify in front of Congress, where lawmakers have questions about issues including China, unproven allegations of platform bias against conservatives and the company’s broad dominance in the technology sector. Lawmakers have yet to settle on a date.

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