China and the Moral Dilemma at Google

Ceria Alfonso
Agosto 19, 2018

Amid growing concerns about online censorship, Google is secretly working on a search engine product for China with built-in censorship features.

Google has not officially commented on the project, but following the letter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees the project is still in early stages of development and it is still unknown if the search engine would launch at all. Last year, Google opened a major artificial intelligence research center in China.

Rumors of the Chinese-based search engine have circulated over the past few weeks after The Intercept reported that it had seen leaked documents, suggesting the Sundar Pichai-led Google was planning to re-enter China, almost 8 years after leaving the country.

Google co-founder and Alphabet president Sergey Brin reportedly said progress is, "slow-going and complicated", but was optimistic overall.

Before the staff meeting, employees called for more "transparency, oversight and accountability" - according to an internal petition.

However, eventually, Google pulled out of China completely in 2010 after several large-scale attacks on the company purportedly by the Chinese government.

The ultimate outcome of Google's efforts to create a censored search engine in China may well rest on high-level state negotiations.

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At that time, Google Engineering Vice President Ben Gomes announced changes to the company's search algorithm aimed at promoting "authoritative" news sources over "alternative viewpoints".

In the letter, the employees say Google would be validating China's restrictions on freedom of expression and violating its own clause in the company's code of conduct, "don't be evil".

The letter and Thursday's meeting follow the publication of an open letter in April, signed by over 1,000 employees, demanding that the company end its collaboration with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence systems created to power the United States military's drone warfare program. "The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options".

The employees were not given details about the project and they are now angry after a report leaked about Google working on such a project. I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don't see any reason why that would be different in China. "If Google cares about its reputation (at the very least) then it should definitely reconsider project Dragonfly".

Pichai pledged to be more transparent with employees as plans are closer to being finalized, the news outlet reported.

The letter has been signed by approximately 1,000 people at the company, according to The New York Times, which first reported the dissent.

According to media reports, Google will not seek another contract when the current Project Maven contract expires in 2019.

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