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Google employees sign open letter demanding end to Project Dragonfly

Project Dragonfly aims to help the Chinese government build a censored search engine that would "blacklist" information that officials don't like.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
  • More than 80 employees have signed the letter so far.
  • The protest comes in the wake of Google employees protesting sexual misconduct within the company and Project Maven, in which Google was helping the U.S. government analyze military drone footage.
  • Google employees are planning walkouts over Project Dragonfly, according to reports.

Scores of Google employees have signed an open letter protesting Project Dragonfly, a controversial effort to build a censored search engine in China.

In early August, The Intercept revealed Google's plans to work with the Chinese government to create a search engine app that would "comply with the country's strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping's Communist Party regime deems unfavorable." In other words, it would "blacklist" information about political opponents, free speech, sex, news, academic studies, and references to "anticommunism" and historical events like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

As of Tuesday, 84 employees had signed the letter that was posted to Medium. The employees wrote that they're not protesting China, but rather the establishment of a dangerous precedent that would "aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be."

"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…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."

Google's recent controversies

In addition to Project Dragonfly, Google employees have in recent months protested the company's handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations, and also Project Maven, in which Google was helping the Department of Defense develop technology and practices to better analyze drone footage. Google said the project was intended to reduce civilian casualties.

"The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work," Google told The New York Times in April.

Both protests led to changes within the company: Google plans to end Project Maven in 2019, and the company updated its sexual misconduct policies after employees staged walkouts in several countries. According to an Engadget report, employees are planning more walkouts over Project Dragonfly.

"Don't be evil"

Google's motto was once "don't be evil," but the company removed nearly all mention of the phrase when it updated its code of conduct earlier this year. It did, however, leave one reference to the old motto in the last line of the document:

"And remember… don't be evil, and if you see something that you think isn't right – speak up!"

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