Dozens of Google employees have signed an open letter demanding that Google stop working on the Dragonfly Project, a censored version of the Google search engine that could be implemented in mainland China.
The existence of the project was revealed by the Intercept in August. Soon after, Google CEO Sundar Pichai insisted that the company "was not close to launching a search product" in China, but has not ruled out doing so in the future.
If Google launched a censored search engine, it would represent a radical change for a company that closed its Chinese search engine for censorship in 2010.
"Many of us accept a job at Google taking into account the company's values, including its previous position on China's censorship and surveillance, and the understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits. ", the employees who protested on Tuesday wrote. Post medium.
"Our opposition to Dragonfly has nothing to do with China," the employees added. "We oppose technologies that help the powerful oppress the vulnerable, wherever they may be."
Early Internet evangelists hoped that the Internet would undermine oppressive governments by allowing the free flow of information. But China's authoritarian regime has discovered how to use Internet technologies to strengthen its own power. The country has built a sophisticated infrastructure for online surveillance and censorship.
Part of China's strategy has been to force online services that operate in China to comply with Chinese censorship laws. For search engines, that means censoring search results on sensitive topics.
"The Chinese government is openly expanding its surveillance powers and population control tools," the Googlers protesters wrote on Tuesday.
For the past eight years, Google has refused to cooperate with these efforts. Until recently, Google minimized its physical footprint in the country to avoid giving the Chinese government the influence it would have by having offices and employees in the Chinese mainland.
But China is a big market. And under the leadership of Sundar Pichai, Google seems to be softening its hardline stance. Google opened a research center in Beijing last December, and the company began offering a Chinese version of a file management application that was originally designed for the Indian market: it is an application designed for customers with limited storage on the device.
"I care about service to users worldwide in all corners, Google is for everyone," Pichai said in 2016. "We want to be in China serving Chinese users."
The big question is whether entering the Chinese market would force Google to verify its values at the door.
"Google is too powerful not to be held responsible," the dissenting Google employees wrote. "We deserve to know what we are building and we deserve a voice in these important decisions."
The list of signatories has been growing rapidly. Initially, the publication had 12 names when it was published on Tuesday morning, but as of the publication of this story, it is about 130 names. The authors say they will continue to add names as more people sign up.
Google has had an increasingly complicated relationship with its own workforce in recent months. Earlier this year, more than 3,000 Googlers signed a letter asking Pichai to suspend work on a military drone project. A dozen employees left Google in protest of the project, and Google finally decided not to renew its contract with the army.
Google has also faced protests over its handling of sexual misconduct. Earlier this month, thousands of employees came out to protest reports that the company had made large payments to executives who came out and faced accusations of sexual misconduct. Those protests also had an impact, since Google eliminated the mandatory arbitration clause of its employee contract in cases of sexual misconduct.
"We have invested for many years to help Chinese users, from the development of Android, through mobile applications such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our tools for developers," Google said in a statement sent by email. "But our work in the search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China."