Published: Sun, August 19, 2018
Markets | By Josh Butler

Google staff protest over China search engine plans

Google staff protest over China search engine plans

Google employees have written a letter to management calling for greater transparency in the wake of reports the company is planning a modified version of its search engine for China.

However, reports last month claimed it had been secretively working on a new Chinese search service, referred to internally as Dragonfly.

Before knowledge of the Dragonfly project was public, only a few hundred out of 88,000 Google employees were privy to the China project. The attack led to government censorship and prompted Google to pull its search engine from the country to make a statement.

"And whether we would do so, or could do so is all very unclear", he said. "Right now we don't", reads a copy of the letter posted on the website of The Times.

In the letter, which is an internal petition, the employees asked for more transparency and oversight of Project Dragonfly, the project's internal title.

Google declined to confirm the authenticity of the letter or comment on the town hall meeting. Google's cloud division is also in talks with multiple Chinese companies about partnerships in the country as the internet search giant seeks ways to get back into the world's second-biggest economy, Bloomberg News has reported. "Google employees need to know what we're building". In June, Google opted not to renew a contract that called for assisting the military with such drone-related tech, according to reports.

A woman stands beside the logo of the US multinational technology company Google during the Viva Tech trade fair
Google employees have written several letters to management in 2018 protesting policies

If Google does end up re-entering the Chinese search market, it will find stiff competition. And earlier on Thursday, a letter began to circulate among staff that called on the company's leaders to create an "ethics review structure" to ensure transparency on issues involving ethics. 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.

"Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically informed decisions about our work, our projects and our employment".

Two sources who were privy to what occurred in Thursday's meeting told Business Insider that Pichai only briefly addressed - and not in any detailed way - the big question on the minds of many at the company: Why is Google considering a return to China?

Progress on the project picked up after a December meeting between Google's Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, it added.

The letter is circulating on Google's internal communication systems and is signed by about 1,400 employees, according to three people familiar with the document, who were not authorised to speak publicly.

Google already offers a number of apps to Chinese users, including Google Translate and Files Go, and the company has offices in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai.

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