Google staff rally against censored Chinese search engine


Google's plans to engineer a censored version of its services for China have got Google staff up in arms, with employees questioning the morality of the endeavour.

The search engine in question would block search terms like "human rights" and "religion", creating a culture of censorship which Google staff are ill at ease with. Hundreds of the company's employees have written to HQ to protest the project, which they say raises "urgent moral and ethical questions".

The letter, published by the New York Times, demands more transparency from Google, maintaining that "[c]urrently we do not have the information required to make ethically informed decisions about our work". Employees also contend that the endeavour would violate Google's code of conduct, which famously includes a "don't be evil" clause.

"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 demanded.

For its part, Google has remained silent. Indeed, the firm has never spoken publicly about the project, and for the time being is declining to comment. If the censored search engine were to come to fruition, it would mark a u-turn for Google, which severed ties with China eight years ago in opposition to the country's stringent censorship laws.

This isn't the first time Google's been in hot water with its employees; back in April, thousands of staff rallied against a programme which developed AI for US military drones. In that instance, the protest proved fruitful, with Google deciding to terminate its AI contract with the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, a recent discovery that Google will track its users even when they've turned Location History off has caused furore, after one user found she was being asked to rate shops she'd visited despite having ostensibly turned location tracking off.

As for current demands, only time will tell. Google can ply its staff with all the free food and ping-pong tables it wants, but it looks like its employees' vigilance and righteousness aren't going anywhere any time soon.