Google CEO misleading staff on China censorship search engine

Google CEO misleading staff on China censorship search engine

Google CEO misleading staff on China censorship search engine: Google withdrew from 8 years back to protest the country’s censorship and online hacking. Now, again the internet giant is working on a censored search engine for China.

The only motive for creating this censored search engine is that it will filter the websites and search terms that are blacklisted by the Chinese government – according to two people with knowledge of the plans.

Google’s reversal in China, which was reported earlier by The Intercept, is the latest example of how American tech companies are trying to tailor their products to enter the huge Chinese market, even if it means tamping down free speech. LinkedIn censors content in China, for example. And Facebook developed software to suppress certain posts from appearing on the social network, with the aim of potentially deploying it in China, though there was no indication it was offered to Chinese authorities.

Google’s work on a censored search engine for China has already caused an outcry among human rights activists. Many are concerned that the company would block a long list of foreign websites including Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times, as well as Chinese search queries including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and information about the Chinese leadership.

Further Updated on Google CEO misleading staff on China censorship search engine

Now, hundreds of Google employees, upset at the company’s decision to secretly build a censored version of its search engine for China, have signed a letter demanding more transparency to understand the ethical consequences of their work.

In the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, employees wrote that the project and Google’s apparent willingness to abide by China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.” They added, “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employees.”

The letter is circulating on Google’s internal communication systems and was signed by almost 1,400 employees, according to three people familiar with the document, was ere not authorized to speak publicly.

The internal activism presents another obstacle for Google’s potential return to China eight years after the company publicly withdrew from the country in protest of censorship and government hacking.

China has the world’s largest internet audience but they are frustrated American tech giants with content restrictions or outright blockages of services including Facebook and Instagram.

Google’s interest in bringing search back to China came to the forefront earlier this month when reports surfaced that the company was working on a search app that restricts content banned by Beijing. The project, known internally as Dragonfly, was developed largely in secret, prompting outrage among employees who worried they had been unwittingly working on technology that would help China withhold information from its citizens.

“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” the letter said.

Google declined to comment on the letter. It has said in the past that it will not comment on Dragonfly or “speculation about future plans.”

After that on Thursday, employees pressed Google’s chief executive officer, Sundar Pichai, and other management about Dragonfly at a weekly staff meeting. As of late Wednesday, one of the top questions on an internal software system called Dory, which lets employees vote for the queries that executives should answer at the meeting, asked whether Google had lost its ethical compass, said people who had reviewed the questions. Other questions on Dory asked directly about the Dragonfly project and specific information that may be censored by the Chinese government, such as air pollution data.

“If we were to do our mission well, we are to think seriously about how to do more in China,” Mr. Pichai said in the staff meeting, audio of which was obtained by The Times. “That said, we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

Mr. Pichai and Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, stopped answering questions about Dragonfly after seeing their answers posted on Twitter.

This controversy has been growing rapidly, on the other hand, Google admits they track users even after they “off” the location tracking.

Google CEO misleading staff on Chaina censorhip search engine
Google has maintained a significant presence in China even though its flagship services are not accessible in the country.CreditAly Song/Reuters

This week’s staff meeting was the first opportunity for Google’s employees to ask CEO Sundar Pichai and management about Dragonfly because the meeting was not held last week.

The absence of a gathering — the result of a regularly scheduled break in the summer, according to a company spokesman, Rob Shilkin — led to fears among employees that leadership was becoming less transparent following several controversies over Google’s government work.

Well, Google is the foremost company for employment because of their working style and transparency, traditionally they are more responsive to employee concerns and more transparent about future projects and inner workings than other major technology companies, inviting questions from workers at its staff meetings and encouraging internal debate.

But now it’s more like they are changing.

Back in 2010, Google said it had discovered that Chinese hackers had attacked the company’s corporate infrastructure in an attempt to access to the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. The attack, combined with government censorship, propelled Google to pull its search engine from the country.

The exit from China was a seminal moment for the company — a symbol of its uncompromising idealism captured by Google’s unofficial motto of “Don’t Be Evil.” At the time, Chinese internet users marked the loss of Google’s search engine by laying flowers at the company’s Beijing offices in what became known as an “illegal flower tribute.” A possible re-entry to China, according to current and former employees, is a sign of a more mature and pragmatic company.

The letter obtained by the New York Times

One thought on “Google CEO misleading staff on China censorship search engine

  1. “A possible re-entry to China, according to current and former employees, is a sign of a more mature and pragmatic company”

    Translated from corporate doublespeak: sold their ideals to make stockholders happy. Censoring the internet because the government asks you isn’t pragmatism, it’s a denouncement of what made Google a success in the first place. Where Microsoft and Yahoo kowtow to every agency asking to breach customer rights, Google (and Apple) found out that actually putting customers first is a better strategy and became bigger than both.

    I understand that you need to push an opposing viewpoint somewhere, but the other viewpoint should be stated for what it is: a company that doesn’t believe it can grow by being better, and in so risks losing its greatest strength.

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