Google Employees Demand Company Kill Censored Chinese Search Product

Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

Googlers have, over the past few months, been fighting for a louder voice and greater self-determination within a company that’s increasingly gone astray of its bare-minimum unofficial motto, “don’t be evil”—and more often than not, they’re winning. But there’s still one big fly in the ointment.

Discomfort over revelations, first reported by Gizmodo, that the crown jewel of Silicon Valley was working hand in glove with the Pentagon on an AI-imaging program for drone footage, known as Project Maven, brought internal backlash and the cancellation of Google’s commitment to the project. Reporting by the New York Times regarding golden parachutes the company handed to high-ranking employees accused of sexual misconduct resulted in coordinated mass walkouts. Though not all demands were met, that display of solidarity brought an end to Google’s long-running practice of forced arbitration settlements for sexual misconduct cases.

The exception to this string of employee victories—all of which are largely unprecedented in the tech sector—is Project Dragonfly, the search product Google is developing for the Chinese market. It’s reported to come baked in with government-requested censorship and ties queries to users’ phone numbers, which Amnesty International warns could allow for greater surveillance. This summer, 1,400 Googlers signed a letter asking (politely, that time) for Dragonfly to be mothballed. Another employee, who quit in disgust over the project’s compliance with the Chinese government’s wishes, urged the Senate to scrutinize Dragonfly.

Still, Dragonfly remains active.

This morning, the fight to shut down Dragonfly escalated a step further. Rather than send a letter to company leadership, only to have it leak to press soon after, Googlers posted the letter publicly on Medium—and took the extraordinary risk of publicly signing their names to it, beginning with 10 workers, six of which are in senior or leadership roles. New names will be added as more Googlers sign the letter.

Update: As of 2pm Eastern, 171 employees have publicly signed the letter.

Continued development and deployment of Dragonfly would, in the eyes of these dissenters, “make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses” and would create precedent for the company to build similarly draconian tools for other foreign powers.

“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” the letter reads. “After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.”

A Google spokesperson declined to comment specifically on this issue but added that “We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

Read the full letter below:

We are Google employees. Google must drop Dragonfly.

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.

We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months. International human rights organisations and investigative reportershave also sounded the alarm, emphasising serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project. So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.

Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. 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.

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.

Dragonfly would also enable censorship and government-directed disinformation, and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely. Given the Chinese government’s reported suppression of dissident voices, such controls would likely be used to silence marginalized people, and favour information that promotes government interests.

Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits. After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.

We join with Amnesty International in demanding that Google cancel Dragonfly. We also demand that leadership commit to transparency, clear communication, and real accountability. Google is too powerful not to be held accountable. We deserve to know what we’re building and we deserve a say in these significant decisions.

Signed,

Alejandro Alderman, Software Engineer

David H. Alexander, Senior Software Engineer

Randy Almand, Software Engineer

Nina-Marie Amadeo, Software Engineer

Christopher Anderson, Senior Software Engineer

Allison Andrews, Site Reliability Engineer

Guillaume Aubian, Software Engineer

Daniel Bali, Software Engineer

Eric Barndollar, Staff Software Engineer

Laetitia Baudoin, Software Engineer

Daniel Bauman, Software Engineer

Steven Bills, Software Engineer

Max Bittker, Software Engineer

Ryan Biwer, Software Engineer

Naomi Black, Technical Program Manager

Bryan Blatt, Software Engineer

Dan Boger, Site Reliability Engineer

Pierre Bourdon, Senior Software Engineer

Gordon Brander, Designer

Michael Bringle, Software Engineer

Christian Brunschen, Software Engineer

Colm Buckley, Engineering Director

Bri Burr, Software Engineer

Clay Caviness, Site Reliability Engineer

Craig Chasseur, Senior Software Engineer

Isaac Clerencia, Site Reliability Engineer

Marc Cohen, Staff Developer Advocate

Ollie Cook, Site Reliability Engineer

Brett Cooley, Software Engineer

Stryder Crown, Custom Solutions Engineer

Cian Cullinan, Site Reliability Engineer

Marco Cunha, Strategic Cloud Engineer

Philip Davis, Site Reliability Engineer

Michael De Rosa, Site Reliability Engineer

Damien Desfontaines, Privacy Engineer

Susan Dickey, Software Engineer

Don Dresser, Technical Program Manager

Paul Duke, Software Engineer

Ben Eggers, Site Reliability Engineer

Alexandre Emelianov, Software Engineer

Burcin Erocal, Site Reliability Engineer

Gabriel Ewing, Software Engineer

Michael Falgoust, UX Researcher

Mark Fickett, Software Engineer

Paul Fisher, Senior software engineer

Liz Fong-Jones, Staff Developer Advocate

Roman Franchuk, Site Reliability Engineer

Amr Gaber, Software Engineer

Matthew Garrett, Staff Security Engineer

Beth Goldberg, Research Program Manager

Boaz Goldstein, Site Reliability Engineer

Pedro Gonnet, Senior Software Engineer

Ian Gowen, Software Engineer

Sachith Gullapalli, Software Engineer

Andrew Gunsch, Staff Software Engineer

Andy Herrman, Senior Software Engineer

Johnicholas Hines, Software Engineer

Sarah Hodne, Site Reliability Engineer

Tyler Holsclaw, IT Resident

Aaron Homer, Software Engineer

Dan Hope, UX Writer

Waldemar Horwat, Staff Software Engineer

Sebastian Hubbard, Software Engineer

Kelli Ireland, Software Engineer

Michał Jabczyński, Software Engineer

Phoebe Jenkins, Software Engineer

Hongming Jin, Senior Software Engineer

Tim Johnson, Sr. Security Engineer

Patrick Jones, Technical Program Manager

Brandon Jones, Software Engineer

Abi Jones, Senior Interaction Designer

Mike Jurney, Site Reliability Engineer

Max Kaehn, Senior Software Engineer

Tom Karlo, Senior Product Manager

Jamie Kinney, Cloud Solutions Architect

Kasey Klimes, UX Researcher

Irene Knapp, Software Engineer

Thomas Koch, Technical Solutions Engineer

Kris Kooi, Software Engineer

Marcin Kowalczyk, Software Engineer

Gabe Krabbe, Senior Site Reliability Engineer

Thomas Kreeger, Systems Administrator

Natarajan Krishnaswami, Senior Software Engineer

Matthew Kulukundis, Staff Software Engineer

Vineet Kumar, Senior Software Engineer

Adrien Kunysz, Systems Engineer

Aysha Kureishi, Program Manager

Aimee Langmaid, Senior Site Reliability Engineer

Pierre-François Laquerre, Senior Software Engineer

Reuven Lazarus, Software Engineer

Alice Lemieux, Software Engineer

Christopher Lu, Software Engineer

Viet-Tam Luu, Senior Software Engineer

Emily Maier, Site Reliability Engineer

Jake Marcus, Senior Software Engineer

Orion Martin, Software Engineer Tools and Infrastructure

Geoff Matters, Software Engineer

Brian McBarron, Software Engineer

Colin McMillen, Staff Software Engineer

Kwasi Mensah, Software Engineer

Henning Meyer, Senior Site Reliability Engineer

Robert L Miller, Software Engineer

Phillips Mitchell, Vendor Manager

Jessa Mittleman, Staff Software Engineer

Steven Monacelli, Program Manager

Sven Mueller, Site Reliability Engineer

Cristina Munoz, Software Engineer

Dan Nanas, Program Manager

Christopher Neffshade, Data Scientist

Rob Neuhaus, Software Engineer

Ben Niemann, Site Reliability Engineer

Mike Nonemacher, Staff Software Engineer

Andrew Olsen, Senior Software Engineer

Kjetil Ørbekk, Senior Software Engineer

Stephanie Parker, Policy Specialist

Vanja Pejovic, Software Engineer

Anthony Polito, Software Engineer

Michael Powell, Software Engineer

Alessandro Preite Martinez, Site Reliability Engineer

Xavid Pretzer, Staff Software Engineer

Vikas Pydah, Software Engineer

Jesper Ramsgaard, UX researcher

Burton Rast, UX Design Lead

Connor Regan, Product Marketing Manager, Hardware

Jacqueline Rogoff, Software Engineer Tools and Infrastructure

Natasha Ross, Executive Business Partner

Michael Safyan, Senior Software Engineer

Mike Samuel, Staff Software Engineer

Aprotim Sanyal, Site Reliability Engineer

Christopher Schmidt, Senior Software Engineer

Erty Seidohl, Software Engineer

Ali Shah, Staff Software Engineer

Kimos Shehata, Software Engineer

Martin Shelton, UX Researcher

Michael Shields, Software Engineer

Matthew Siegler, Senior Software Engineer

Joëlle Skaf, Staff Software Engineer

Sophie Smithburg, Site Reliability Engineer

Jacob Smullyan, Senior Software Engineer

Ben Stewart, Staff Software Engineer

Stevie Strickland, Software Engineer

Huseyin Tasbent, Account Manager

Daniel Thornburgh, Software Engineer in Tools and Infrastructure

Arthur Tilley, Software Engineer

Finbarr Timbers, Research Engineer

Valentin Tolmer, Software Engineer

Jonathan Tomer, Software Engineer

Omer Torok, Account Manager

Zora Tung, Software Engineer

Jakub Turski, Site Reliability Engineer

Rose Valle, Software Engineer

Andrei Vancea, Senior Software Engineer

Sandeep Vijayasekar, Software Engineer

Salim Virji, Site Reliability Engineer

Ryan Waldman, Software Engineer

Rachel Walker, User Experience Researcher

Meredith Whittaker, Google Open Research Lead

Rachel Wiens, Software Engineer

Kimberly Wilber, Software Engineer

Jamie Wilkinson, Senior Site Reliability Engineer

John Wohn, Cloud Program Manager

Ryan Wolf, Senior Software Engineer

Benjamin Wolf, Senior Software Engineer

Edmund Wright, Software Engineer

Huajie Wu, Software Engineer, Tools and Infrastructure

Tariq Yusuf, Privacy Software Engineer

Joel Zacharias, Senior Software Engineer

Alexandre Zani, Software Engineer

Jean Zheng, Senior Staff Technology Manager

Miriam Zimmerman, Software Engineer

Elsa Zuckerman, Software Engineer

Do you have information about Project Dragonfly? Send us a tip via email, Keybase, or anonymously via our Secure Drop server. 

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