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SAY NO TO CHINA

Google employees stand with Amnesty International in condemning Google

Workers protest against Google's handling of sexual misconduct allegations at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
AP Photo/Noah Berger
Bigger than both of them.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Google employees are calling on the company to cancel Project Dragonfly, its endeavor to create a censored search engine for China, in an open letter posted on Medium today (Nov. 27).

Amnesty International also published a statement condemning Google, warning that Dragonfly “would set a dangerous precedent for tech companies enabling rights abuses by governments.” Google employees have explicitly said they stand with the human-rights group.

The Google employees call company leadership’s response to the pushback from human rights organizations and journalists about the controversial search engine “unsatisfactory.” They want the company to commit to “transparency, clear communication, and real accountability.” Earlier this year, following The Intercept’s reporting that exposed Dragonfly, a letter demanding the same things was signed by 1,400 Google employees and circulated internally.

Google employees make clear that the problem is bigger than the planned search engine.

“We object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” they wrote. Google’s employees also highlight how China’s censorship policies have already harmed vulnerable groups like the Uyghur Muslims:

Our company’s decision comes as the Chinese government is openly expanding its surveillance powers and tools of population control. Many of these rely on advanced technologies, and combine online activity, personal records, and mass monitoring to track and profile citizens. Reports are already showing who bears the cost, including Uyghurs, women’s rights advocates, and students. 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.

When the letter was first published, there were only nine signatures—that number ballooned to more than 60 in a few hours and continues to grow. By calling out earlier controversies, like unrest over Project Maven, which helped the US government analyze drone footage, or Andy Rubin’s payout package after he was accused of sexual misconduct, the employees are highlighting just how fraught Google’s year has been.

Amnesty International’s statement also focuses on the state of Google’s reputation. “This is a watershed moment for Google,” said Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s researcher on technology and human rights. “As the world’s number one search engine, it should be fighting for an internet where information is freely accessible to everyone, not backing the Chinese government’s dystopian alternative.”

The human-rights group is staging protests around the world outside Google’s offices to condemn Dragonfly.

Amnesty also made a spoof promotional video for the censored search engine in China that ends by distorting Google’s motto: “Don’t be evil—unless it’s profitable.”

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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