In the letter, which is an internal petition, the employees asked for more transparency and oversight of Project Dragonfly, the project’s internal title.
“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, seen by the Reuters news agency, reads.
The employees are reportedly worried about kowtowing to China by implementing the government’s requests for censorship.
China restricts internet users massively by blocking websites, censoring words and clamping down on free speech.
In the letter, the employees say Google would be validating China’s restrictions on freedom of expression and violating its own clause in the company’s code of conduct, “don’t be evil”.
Google has not officially commented on the project, but following the letter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees the project is still in early stages of development and it is still unknown if the search engine would launch at all.
“The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options,” Pichai said during an internal meeting.
“We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here.”
Human rights organisations and activists expressed their worry over Google’s plans when they were shared earlier this month in US media reports.
Amnesty International called it “a dark day for the internet” if Google decided to push through its plans.
Building censorship into a Chinese search engine is neither hard no cool. You know what's cool? Using all that effort to direct Chinese to uncensored information, which is what Google could have done. https://t.co/Y0XcGM2jyV by @rj_gallagher
— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) August 10, 2018
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) August 7, 2018
Activists have long sought to circumvent the effects of the Chinese government’s pervasive censorship methods.
Earlier this year, Google employees staged a similar protest when it was announced the company was working with the US Department of Defense to develop artificial intelligence capabilities for drones.
After the letter, Google decided to withdraw from that project.
If Google decides to follow through on its plans, it would not be the first time Google enters the Chinese market.
In 2006, the search engine was introduced to Chinese internet users, but after many quarrels with the Chinese government, it moved its servers to Hong Kong, which has fewer restrictions on the internet.
However, eventually, Google pulled out of China completely in 2010 after several large-scale attacks on the company purportedly by the Chinese government.
Google services, including its search engine, Gmail and Google Drive, are all blocked in China.