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Google is facing scrutiny from a number of human rights groups to abandon its controversial Project Dragonfly initiative, that would see the search giant launch a censored search engine in China, nearly eight years after leaving the country.
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.”
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“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, Google said that it has “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 is 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, follows 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.
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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.
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Google’s rocky history in China
The rumors of the Chinese search engine have spread over 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 documents seen by The Intercept, examples that are censored are British broadcaster BBC and Wikipedia.
In 2010, Google famously announced it was leaving China, specifically mentioning China censoring 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