Google employees revolt as Chinese censorship project gains traction

Google building
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In an open letter on Tuesday, a large number of Google employees announced they joined Amnesty International in publicly opposing Google's Project Dragonfly.

Project Dragonfly is the codename for Google's new search engine made for China which censors the internet, blocking searches relating to human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protesting. Reports also say that to use the service, a citizen must tie their account using their phone number, allowing for easier tracking of searches by the state.

"Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be," said the 346 employees in the open letter. "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."

The anger from the tech giant's employees also stems from the apparent abandonment of their core values. In 2010, Google quit China because of the country's unreasonable censorship demands for search engines. Up until 2010, Google did comply with the country's censorship laws until one day they found activist's Google accounts hacked, with intellectual property stolen.

The White House subsequently stepped in, holding talks with Google urging them to withdraw from China. In a 2010 statement, Google said that the Chinese hacking of Google wasn't limited to just them, at least twenty other large companies were also targeted. The hackers targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese activists' but only succeeded in two cases, and only gained access to basic account info, not email content.

As a result, Google stopped censoring results in China and ultimately shut down and their Chinese offices.

Speaking at the Wired 25 summit, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the time had come to re-evaluate its position on the Chinese market. "It's a wonderful, innovative market. We wanted to learn what it would look like if we were in China, so that's what we built internally," Pichai said. "Given how important the market is and how many users there are," he added, "we feel obliged to think hard about this problem and take a longer-term view."

The news follows Beijing's implementing its social credit system whereby the state surveils its citizens and scores them based on how compliant they are with the government's ideals. Poor scores could see residents refused access to public transport and anything from breaking laws to buying too many video games can negatively impact a score.

By 2020, the system will be fully implemented, there are currently announcements on Chinese trains reminding citizens to behave with proper conduct or risk their personal credit score being depleted.

Connor Jones

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.