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Google employees call for company to end work on China search engine

Amnesty International activists hold a protest to call on Google to cancel
Amnesty International activists hold a protest to call on Google to cancel project Dragonfly, a censored search engine for China, outside of the Google headquarters in Madrid on Nov. 27, 2018. Copyright Oscar del Pozo AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Oscar del Pozo AFP - Getty Images
By Jasmin Boyce with NBC News Tech and Science News
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Google employees stated in an open letter that they no longer believed the company was "willing to place its values above its profits."


More than 100 Google employees spoke out against their employer on Tuesday in an open letter that urged the company to "drop" Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine currently being designed for the Chinese government.

"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 Google employees wrote in the letter published on Medium.

More signatures have been getting added since the letter's publication.

Google employees stated in the open letter that they no longer believed the company was "willing to place its values above its profits," and pointed toward a string of controversial actions taken by the company this year, including Project Maven, a collaborative program with the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence and video imagery to enhance the accuracy of drone strikes, and, as reported by The New York Times,Google's paying out a $90 million dollar exit package to a former executive accused of sexual misconduct.

"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," the employees stated. "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."

Controversy around Google's search engine for China started in August when online investigative publication The Intercept first reported in August on the secretive program. Since then, the program has generated criticism from open-internet advocates and Google's own employees.

The censored search engine would enable Chinese officials to repress dissent and push its government agenda by censoring activists and spreading disinformation to the country's residentsp, according to employees.

Google had previously taken a stance against enabling censored search engine results in China back in March 2010, but in August the company sought to reenter what seemed to be a profitable market in the country.

Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive, confirmed the existence of the project during an interview in October.

A Google spokesperson said the company had been "investing for many years to help Chinese users," but that work on Dragonfly was "exploratory" and that the company was "not close to launching a search product in China."

The employee letter comes as Google workers have grown more outspoken about the company's products and its internal culture.

Google employees protested the Chinese search engine in a similar fashion in August, when more than 1,000 of themsigned a letter to Pichai expressing concerns about the suspected censored search engine.

On Nov. 1, Google employees in offices around the world staged a walkoutto demand changes to how the company handles accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Google's employees say the company has struggled to answer to employees, legislators, and activist groups seeking greater transparency and accountability from the tech giant, with the open letter stating that their "leadership's response has been unsatisfactory."

"We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months," the letter stated. "International human rightsorganizations 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."


Google employees also expressed in Tuesday's open letter that they are now merging forces with Amnesty International, a human rights organization.

Amnesty international launched a petition on Monday, claiming the internet giant is planning to "trade internet freedoms for profit."

The activist group plans to stage protests on Tuesday outside of Google offices across the globe, fighting against the censored search engine.

"Google is too powerful not to be held accountable," the employees stated.

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