MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS SF) — Nearly 500 Google employees on Tuesday publicly urged their employer to cease building a censored search engine, code named Project Dragonfly, for the Chinese market.
Hundreds of Google employees who signed their names publicly to an open letter to Google are joining human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Those groups are urging Google not to launch the program, and say doing so would enable state surveillance.
Google declined to comment on the letter and did not answer any questions about whether Dragonfly enables state surveillance or if the company plans to cancel the project.
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The company pointed to a previous statement by a Google spokesperson saying, “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. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”
Over the past decade, China has blocked access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and thousands of other foreign websites.
Google employees argue that the Chinese government can use Dragonfly technology to stifle freedom of expression and suppress dissent through surveillance.
“Providing the Chinese government with ready access to user data, as required by Chinese law, would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses,” the letter states.
Employees say launching Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent and one that could lead Google to make similar concessions in other countries.
Employees say their public letter comes after months of protest and “unsatisfactory” response from leadership at the company.
The Google employees who signed the letter say they “object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be.”
The letter also expresses employees’ concerns that Dragonfly would enable government-directed disinformation.
Amnesty International argues that launching Dragonfly would add legitimacy to China’s vision of the Internet, in which the government not only has control over what information citizens access but can freely access all online data about those same citizens.
“As the world’s number one search engine, it should be fighting for an Internet where information is freely accessible to everyone, not backing the Chinese government’s dystopian alternative,” said Joe Westby, a technology and human rights researcher with Amnesty International.
In the public letter, Google employees demand that the company cancel Project Dragonfly, place human rights above profits and not capitulate to the Chinese government to gain access to the country.
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