Internal strife forces Sundar Pichai to rethink Google’s re-entry to China

Ann Santiago
August 19, 2018

It follows similar efforts by Google employees to challenge the internet giant's Pentagon work, which had raised concerns about involvement in weapons development.

The report states that about 1,400 employees have signed the letter (PDF) and it's being circulated on the company's communication channels.

Google didn't respond to requests for comment.

Google's plans to re-enter China with a search engine are at an "exploratory" stage, Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai has said, as he tried to soothe anger among employees.

Google's last foray into the Chinese market, from 2005 to 2010, ended in a public falling out over censorship and an alleged hacking scandal.

In a letter to Pichai earlier this month, a bipartisan group of six USA senators called Google's potential return to China "deeply troubling", noting the country's repressive surveillance apparatus, human rights abuses and its alleged record of taking intellectual property from foreign technology companies. According to a letter obtained by The New York Times, Google's "apparent willingness to abide by China's censorship requirements "raise urgent moral and ethical issues".

According to the New York Times, Google employees are anxious that they have been unwittingly working to facilitate a strictly-controlled internet for Chinese users that could block search access to topics such as human rights and environmental protection.

Although Pichai has dismissed reports about not being "close to" launching the search engine, there have been confirmed reports about Google actually working on a censored version.

Whether the company could or would launch search in China "is all very unclear" Pichai said, according to Reuters.

Only a few hundred of 88,000 employees at Google have been informed of the secret project, The Intercept claims.

Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.

After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones. "We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we're building". While it still maintains offices in the country, it has been seeking to increase its presence.

"Our stated mission is to organize the world's information", Pichai said, according to the transcript.

The fact that someone within Google was sharing info in real time appeared to anger some workers, one source said.

"Then the Chinese government can say, 'Google is OK with it too, '" he said.

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