- Aly Song/Reuters
- Google employees have signed a petition asking Google to cancel its controversial Chinese search engine project, internally codenamed “Dragonfly.”
- Dragonfly has received scrutiny from both human rights organizations and politicians for its reported ambitions to establish a search engine that would surrender data to the Chinese government, as well as censor certain searches, like “human rights.”
- In this most recent letter to Google executives, Google employees implore the company to shut down the project entirely.
On Tuesday morning, several Google employees signed a petition asking Google to shut down work on its controversial censored search engine for China, internally referred to as “Dragonfly.” As of 10 am ET, the petition had been signed by eleven Google engineers, with a note that said that more signatures would be forthcoming.
Since it was revealed in a report by The Intercept in August, Google’s Dragonfly work has come under intense scrutiny for its reported intentions to blacklist words like “human rights” and “student protest” from its search results, in addition to providing a form of data surveillance to the Chinese government, which requires companies operating in the country to allow government access to user data.
Human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign in protest of Dragonfly, which the group of Google employees said they stood in solidarity with in Tuesday’s letter.
“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 petition reads.
This is the second letter by Google employees in recent months petitioning the company to reconsider moving forward with project Dragonfly. In late August, The Intercept reported that more than 1,400 Google employees had signed an internal letter requesting greater transparency on the company’s China search engine plans, along with an ethics review of the project.
In response to a request for comment, a Google spokesperson referred to an earlier statement the company had issued regarding its work on project Dragonfly: “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.”
Read the full petition below:
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.
We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months. International human rights organizations and investigative reportershave 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.
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 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.
Our company’s decision comes as the Chinese government is openly expanding its surveillance powers and tools of population control. Many of these rely on advanced technologies, and combine online activity, personal records, and mass monitoring to track and profile citizens. Reports are already showing who bears the cost, including Uyghurs, women’s rights advocates, and students. 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.
Dragonfly would also enable censorship and government-directed disinformation, and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely. Given the Chinese government’s reported suppression of dissident voices, such controls would likely be used to silence marginalized people, and favor information that promotes government interests.
Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits. After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.
We join with Amnesty International in demanding that Google cancel Dragonfly. We also demand that leadership commit to transparency, clear communication, and real accountability. Google is too powerful not to be held accountable. We deserve to know what we’re building and we deserve a say in these significant decisions.
David H. Alexander, Senior Software Engineer Pierre Bourdon, Senior Software Engineer Damien Desfontaines, Privacy Engineer Amr Gaber, Software Engineer Colin McMillen, Staff Software Engineer Steven Monacelli, Program Manager Matthew Siegler, Senior Software Engineer Joëlle Skaf, Staff Software Engineer Zora Tung, Software Engineer Meredith Whittaker, Google Open Research Lead Jean Zheng, Senior Staff Technology Manager