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December 12, 2018

Google employees stand against Project Dragonfly, restrictive search engine being developed for China

November 29, 2018
A smart phone with the Google web and Chinese flag is seen on the screen. (Getty Images)

Human right advocates worldwide are calling on Google to cease developing a search engine that would function in line with China’s strict censorship rules and its penchant for surveillance. Now the information behemoth’s own employees have joined the growing chorus urging that the project be scrapped.

“We are Google employees and we join Amnesty International in calling on Google to cancel project Dragonfly, Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance,” the employees wrote in an open letter on Medium. “We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months. International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project. So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.”




Internet users in China would be restricted from searching for terms such as “human rights” and “Tiananmen Crackdown,” Amnesty International said on Tuesday in its own statement against Project Dragonfly. The human rights group also posted a spoof video about working for Google, with a link to a petition on a page headlined “Error! Something has gone horribly wrong. Google wants to trade internet freedoms for profit.”

Google told the Daily News that its role in China had been to help users with its development of products and services, not enable government surveillance and censorship.

“Our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

This is the second such letter signed by Google employees in regards to this project, whose alleged existence was revealed by The Intercept last August.

Between 2006 and 2010, Google did operate a censored search engine in China, but moved its server to Hong Kong when it found that the government was using it to hack into Google employee accounts, ABC News said.

Google employees are also taking stands against other practices by the company, from its handling of sexual harassment claims to its work with the Pentagon. Project Dragonfly would have implications far beyond China, they said.

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“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” the employees said in their letter. “The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”

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