Google workers push to stop censored Chinese search project

Tech giant taken to task for not challenging Chinese government's policy that politically sensitive results be blocked.

    A surveillance camera seen in front of the Google China headquarters in Beijing, China [Andy Wong/AP]
    A surveillance camera seen in front of the Google China headquarters in Beijing, China [Andy Wong/AP]

    More than 200 employees comprising engineers, designers and managers at Alphabet Inc's Google published an open letter demanding the company end development of a censored search engine for Chinese users, escalating earlier protests against the secretive project.

    Google has described the search app, known as Project Dragonfly, as an experiment not close to launching. But as details of it have leaked since August, current and former employees, human rights activists and US legislators have criticised Google for not taking a harder line against the Chinese government's policy that politically sensitive results be blocked.

    The letter expresses concern over the Chinese government tracking dissidents through search data and suppressing truth through content restrictions.

    "We object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be," the employees said in the letter published on blogging service Medium.

    Human rights group Amnesty International also launched a public petition on Tuesday calling on Google to cancel Dragonfly. The organisation said it would encourage Google workers to sign the petition by targeting them on LinkedIn and protesting outside Google offices.

    Google declined to comment on the employees' letter on Tuesday.

    'Values over profits'

    About 1,400 of Google's tens of thousands of workers urged the company in August to improve oversight of ethically questionable ventures, including Dragonfly.

    Google has long sought to have a bigger presence in China, the world's largest internet market. It needs government approval to compete with the country's dominant home-grown internet services.

    The nine employees who first signed their names on Tuesday's letter said they had seen little progress.

    The employees said they no longer believe Google is "a company willing to place its values over profits" and cited a string of "disappointments" this year, including acknowledgement of a big payout to an executive who had been accused of sexual harassment.

    That incident sparked global protests at Google, which like other big technology companies has seen an uptick in employee activism during the last two years as their services become an integral part of civic infrastructure.

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    SOURCE: Reuters news agency