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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.

Google employees sign open letter demanding end to Project Dragonfly
(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!"

Just How Much Land Does the Federal Government Own — and Why?

The rough beauty of the American West seems as far as you can get from the polished corridors of power in Washington DC.

Surprising Science

The rough beauty of the American West seems as far as you can get from the polished corridors of power in Washington DC. Until you look at the title to the land. The federal government owns large tracts of the western states: from a low of 29.9% in Montana, already more than the national average, up to a whopping 84.5% in Nevada.

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Can VR help us understand layers of oppression?

Researchers are using technology to make visual the complex concepts of racism, as well as its political and social consequences.

Future of Learning
  • Often thought of first as gaming tech, virtual reality has been increasingly used in research as a tool for mimicking real-life scenarios and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Focusing on issues of oppression and the ripple affect it has throughout America's political, educational, and social systems, Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn of Columbia University School of Social Work and her team developed a VR experience that gives users the opportunity to "walk a mile" in the shoes of a black man as he faces racism at three stages in his life: as a child, during adolescence, and as an adult.
  • Cogburn says that the goal is to show how these "interwoven oppressions" continue to shape the world beyond our individual experiences. "I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness," she says. "And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you...it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad, do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?'"
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Russia claims world's first COVID-19 vaccine but skepticism abounds

President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced coronavirus vaccine at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Coronavirus
  • Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in Russia.
  • Scientists around the world are worried that the vaccine is unsafe and that Russia fast-tracked the vaccine without performing the necessary phase 3 trials.
  • To date, Russia has had nearly 900,000 registered cases of coronavirus.
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