Employees want more oversight and transparency over Google’s Dragonfly project

In 2006, Google had entered China only to leave in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large U.S. firms.

According to a transcript of a meeting between Google’s CEO and its employees, the search engine giant is not close to launching a search engine app in China with employees calling for more oversight and transparency in the project.

In the meeting, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai told staff that the China-focussed app was in the early stages of development and that providing more services in China fits within Google’s global mission.

Google aims to gain approval from the Chinese government for the app which could potentially block some websites and search terms.

Pichai has clarified that, it “is all very unclear,” whether Google could or would launch a search app in China.

“The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options,” said Pichai.

The disclosure of these efforts have not gone down well with human rights advocacy organizations as well as with many employees at Google. Their concerns hinge on the fact that by giving in and agreeing to China’s demand for censorship Google would be validating China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate its “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.

Hundreds of employees have called on Google to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” in an internal petition.

In a separate petition, earlier this year, Google told the Pentagon that it would not renew a project to help the U.S. military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones. In the China petition, employees say they are concerned that the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that the ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”

“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the petition signed by Google’s employees.

Google declined to comment.

With reference to the Dragonfly project, Pichai told employees, “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” while noting that the company guards information on a projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”

According to three former employees, the leadership in Google may see offering limited search services in China as better than not providing any services at all.

The same rationale had led Google to enter China in 2006 which it exited in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large U.S. firms.

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