Workers Want To Know Why Google Kept China Censorship Project Secret

Written by Ann Brown


The employees over at Google are unhappy again about their company’s latest move. Employees want to know why Google plans to launch a censored search engine in China–and why they never revealed these plans.

And finally, they are getting the word–some of it. “CEO Sundar Pichai admitted to employees during an all-hands meeting that the censorship project–code-named Dragonfly–had been “in an exploration stage for quite a while now,” according to two sources who heard his remarks,” the Intercept reported.

Even though Google scrapped plans before to partner with China, Pichai says now the timing is right. And he answered charges of keeping the staff in the dark by promising “we’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record.”

“Back in 2006, Google launched a censored search engine in China. But four years later, in March 2010, it pulled the service out of the country, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems,” the Intercept reported.

In this Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, photo a mobile phone displays a user’s travels in New York. Google records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. An Associated Press investigation shows that using Google services on Android devices and iPhones allows the search giant to record your whereabouts as you go about your day. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)


But now, according to insiders, Google’s search engine chief Ben Gomes told Google staff working on Dragonfly that the product has to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed.” This even though Pichai told Google staff last week that Dragonfly was only  “exploratory.” So the question begs how can it be at the conceptual stage and “launch-ready state” at the same time? Pichai has been meeting with top Communist Party officials, such one of President Xi Jinping’s top advisers Wang Huning.

Others besides the Google employees are happy about Dragonfly. “Several human rights groups have called on Google to cancel Dragonfly, and a bipartisan group of six U.S. senators has condemned it as ‘deeply troubling,’” the Intercept reported.

It is a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who have  called Google’s censorship plans for China “deeply troubling.” On top of this Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Access Now, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights in China have all issued statements expressing concerns about Dragonfly. In its statement, Amnesty said: “It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course.”

Besides the majority of the staff saying they were kept in the dark about the project until now, co-founder Sergey Brin, who has spoken out about anti-censorship in the past, says he had no idea about it as well.

In fact, out of the company’s some 88,000 employees only a few hundred of knew about the project. And the secrecy has upset the masses. “Around 1,4000 Google employees have signed a letter demanding more transparency to understand the ethical consequences of their work, according to three people familiar with the document,” the Independent reported.

What’s seems ironic is that Google is a member of the Global Network Initiative, which is an organization that seeks to defend digital rights worldwide.