Google employees quit over controversial China search engine-project, report says

FILE – In this April 17, 2007, file photo, exhibitors of the Google company work in front of a illuminated sign at the industrial fair Hannover Messe in Hanover, Germany. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File)

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Seven Google employees have reportedly quit their jobs over the lack of accountability and transparency at the search giant over its controversial China search engine effort, code-named Project Dragonfly.

The departure, first reported by BuzzFeed News, not all publicly identified. However, a large part consists of software engineers with various degrees of experience, BuzzFeed reported, citing three sources familiar with the matter. One of the names on the list is Google’s senior scientist, Jack Poulson, who reportedly first heard of the Project Dragonfly after The Interception initially reported the story in August.

“It is our policy not to comment on individual employees,” a Google spokesman told Fox News.


Speaking with BuzzFeed, Poulson said that he was “shocked” by the news. “If it was true, I was pretty sure that I could not continue working there,” he told the news outlet.

Last month, Google was pressured by a consortium of human rights groups to refrain from the search engine, which would be app-based, and censored at the behest of the Chinese government. When Poulson saw that the company gave no credence to the human rights organizations’ concerns, he decided to deal with his problems.

“I’m offended that no weight is given to the rights of the human community to a consensus,” he said in the Buzzfeed interview. “If you coalition letter of 14 human rights organisations, and that may not even be in the discussions about the ethics behind a decision, I would prefer to stand with the human rights organizations in this dispute.”

News of the alleged departure comes just days after the chief scientist of Google’s cloud-computing unit, Fei-Fei Li, resigned from the company on dustups in connection with a Maven Project, the company’s controversial Pentagon’s AI program, according to the New York Post.

In June, Fox News reported that Google was set to the end of the program after it expires in 2019.

The rights of man

In August, more than a dozen human rights groups sent a letter to Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai to ask him to explain what Google is doing to ensure that users of the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance.

It describes the company’s secret plans to build a search engine that would comply with the Chinese censorship authorities as representative of “an alarming capitulation by Google in the rights of man.”

“The Chinese government extensively in conflict with the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by the record of the Chinese authorities’ suppression of dissent, Google would be actively involved in this activity for millions of internet users in China,” the letter says.

In a statement to Fox News at the time of the letter, Google said that it has “been investing for many years to help Chinese users, the development of Android, mobile apps, such as Google Translate and Files, and our tools for developers. But our work looking is exploratory, and we are not in the vicinity of the launch of a product search in China.”

The letter was signed by groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders.


The dissatisfaction of the employees of Google

The letter from the human rights groups came only a few weeks after the about 1,000 of Google’s own employees asked Pichai and senior leadership to explain what it does with the search project.

The letter, obtained by BuzzFeed News, said that the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant is a need for more transparency about how it works and send that to its employees. “Our industry has entered a new era of ethical responsibility: the choices we make on a global scale,” explains the letter, which specifically refer to the Chinese search engine project, called Dragonfly.


The letter, which is signed by about 1000 people in the company, according to The New York Times, also ask the management to meet the following four conditions with respect to ethics and transparency:

1. An ethical structure that includes members of the representatives of the employees

2. The appointment of ombudspeople with meaningful employee input in their selection

3. A clear plan for the transparency to be sufficient to Googlers an individual ethical choice about what they work on; and

4. The publication of “ethical test cases”; an ethical review of the Dragonfly, Maven, and air Gap GCP with regard to the AI principles; ordinary, official, internal, visible communication and evaluations with regard to any new areas of significant ethical concern.

After the letter became public, Google held an internal meeting with the staff, Pichai expressed the company was “not close” to the search function of the product, and it is “very unclear” whether it would or may, according to CNBC.


Google’s rocky history in China

The rumors of the Chinese search engine, circulating the past few weeks after The Intercept reported that it had seen leaked documents, suggests that Sundar Pichai-led Google was planning to re-enter China, almost 8 years after leaving the country.

The search engine would be app-based, would be the removal of items with certain words or phrases, and would apply to image search, suggested search functions and automatic spell checking. It would also be “black-listed sensitive queries”, so no results are displayed when someone searches for a particular word or phrase, The Intercept added.

The app will also identify topics and websites that are blocked by the chinese Great Firewall, according to the documents. According to The Intercept, examples that are censored are British broadcaster BBC and Wikipedia.

In 2010, Google famously announced it was leaving China, specifically mentioning China, the censorship tactics as a reason for pulling out of the country.

However, Pichai has said that he wants Google in China, where the internet-users. Pichai became Google’s CEO in 2015, taking over from co-founder Larry Page, who became CEO of the Alphabet, the holding company that owns Google.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia


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