A group of Google employees is demanding that the company pull the plug on “Project Dragonfly,” its initiative to create a censored search engine for China that would comply with the country’s internet laws.
“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 employees wrote in an open letter posted Tuesday.
The letter, posted on Medium, has been signed by 36 Google staffers, and organizers said they will add more names as others sign on. [UPDATE: As of Wednesday at 7 a.m. ET, 332 employees were listed as signatories.] The letter also calls on Google’s senior management to “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.”
Google declined to comment on the letter.
The new call for Google to kill Dragonfly comes after around 1,400 employees signed an internal petition in August demanding more details about the project, per the New York Times. Earlier this year, after Google employees blasted the company’s work on behalf of the Pentagon with Project Maven — which used artificial-intelligence imaging to improve the accuracy of drone strikes — the company declined to renew the contract.
Amnesty International will stage protests outside several Google offices Tuesday as part of calling for an end to the Chinese search engine, the Intercept reported.
The protests over the China search engine come after more than 20,000 Google workers worldwide on Nov. 1 walked off the job to protest over the company’s handling of the sexual-harassment cases. In response, Google revised some of its sexual-misconduct policies, including ending forced arbitration in such cases, although some employees say the company still needs to do more.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has characterized the censored China search engine as an “experiment” that is not close to being launched. Speaking earlier this month at the New York Times’ DealBook conference, Pichai said the project was to explore “what would our product look like [in China].”
Last week, an interview with Bloomberg, John Hennessy — chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent — expressed reservations about launching a censored search engine in China. “Anybody who does business in China compromises some of their core values… because the laws in China are quite a bit different than they are in our own country,” he said.
According to the Google employees opposing Project Dragonfly, the act of 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.”