Google employees around the world are starting to remember what the ‘Don’t be Evil’ motto actually means, and the controversial Project Dragonfly is next on the radar.
During the summer, leaked plans suggested Google was developing a news-aggregation app for use in China which will comply to the governments strict censorship rules. The leak turned out to be true and Google became the latest internet giant to sacrifice principles in pursuit of the bonanza of cash hidden behind the Great Firewall of China.
However, a team of Googlers are not going to sit back and watch the admired brand be dragged down.
“We are Google employees and we join Amnesty International in calling on Google to cancel project Dragonfly, Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance,” a small group of Google employees wrote on Medium.
“We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months. International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project. So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.”
The original letter was signed by 11 employees, though the list is being updated as and when more join via an internal petition. And just to be clear, this is not a direct criticism of China and its abuse of basic freedoms, but in Google aiding the state with its advanced technologies.
According to the letter, surveillance and the suppression of an individual’s right to freedom is increasingly being done through the implementation of next-generation technologies. We’ve heard numerous stories come out of China regarding facial recognition, and this is where the Googlers seemingly want to draw the line. This isn’t about directly stopping an oppressive country, but preventing one of the US’ most powerful companies, one which is supposed to have democratic values, aiding the government in its nefarious mission.
This is of course not the first time the Googlers have been active on humanitarian grounds. Two of the original 11 signatories were organizers of the recent walk out, and employee outrage eventually led to the end of the controversial Project Maven, an initiative which saw Google’s technology aid the US government to increase the accuracy of drone strikes. This project was one which certainly had repercussions, as it is rumoured CEO Sundar Pichai and former cloud boss Dianne Greene disagreed on whether to bow to employees. It supposedly created a rift between the two which was never fixed.
Just like Google employees do not want to oil the gears of war and death, they do not want to help create Big Brother states.
“The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent,” the letter states. “Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”
China is a conundrum for many of the internet giants. It presents a huge opportunity for growth, with an untapped, digitally-savvy population, though the table stakes are considerable. For any company to operate in the country, it would have to adhere to strict rules, some of which would make level-headed and reasonable people cringe. Google is not alone in bowing to the Chinese government, LinkedIn folded and Uber made concessions.
Google has always sold itself as a friendly, approachable brand, which has been built for the people. This purpose might have been forgotten as the ‘Don’t be Evil’ motto was dropped, but there are at least some Googlers who are holding the management team accountable.