Hundreds of Google employees have written to the company to protest against plans to launch a “censored search engine” in China.
They said the project raised “urgent moral and ethical questions” and urged the firm to be more transparent.
“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work,” they added.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai and co-founder Sergey Brin have addressed the controversy over “Dragonfly,” reportedly an effort to re-enter the Chinese market with a news and search product, in an all-hands meeting with employees. Pichai described the effort as “exploratory” and in the “early stages,” according to a transcript obtained by Bloomberg. “We are not close to launching a search product in China,” he told employees. “And whether we would do so or could so is all very unclear.”
The Dragonfly project would reportedly involve censoring information in accordance with the Chinese government’s demands, which has prompted some employees to protest the company’s secrecy over the matter. “I think there are a lot of times when people are in exploratory stages where teams are debating and doing things, so sometimes being fully transparent at that stage can cause issues,” Pichai said, according to BuzzFeed News. “So I do think there are genuine issues teams are grappling with. We are as a company, I think, more committed to transparency than probably any company in the world.”
“Our stated mission is to organize the world’s information,” Pichai added. “China is one-fifth of the world’s population. I think if we were to do our mission well, I think we have to think seriously about how we do more in China. I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don’t see any reason why that would be different in China.”
Brin said that the Dragonfly project only came to his attention because of the “kerfuffle” over it. “Googlers should feel broadly proud of their work, not feel that it compromises their principles,” he added, before changing the topic after becoming aware that his and Pichai’s comments were leaking. Reporters from publications including The New York Times and BuzzFeed News were tweeting out quotes from the meeting as it was taking place.