After some 1400 Google employees signed a letter protesting the company's top-secret censorship project for China and demanded for more information regarding the project, the Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai addressed the staff on the matter. He told in the company-wide meeting that Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China.
He also added that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
“Whether the company could or would launch the search engine in China is all very unclear,” said Sundar Pichai. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
In the letter signed by Google employees, the staff had mentioned that the project and Google’s apparent willingness to abide by China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.” They further wrote, “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”
Although, Google has not operated in China since 2010, following a cyber attack, and after struggles with censorship from the Chinese government, Google has reportedly been developing a special Google version for the country since the end of last year, under the project titled Dragonfly.
The project, Dragonfly, involves the company building a special version of Google that blocks certain websites or keywords related to topics such as democracy and religion.
This is not the first time Google's employees have shown their concerns related to the moral and ethical issues raised by the company's projects.
Earlier this year, Googlers had objected to the contract with the US military to refine the use of artificial intelligence in drone weaponry. Following the internal and external backlash, where employees resigned in protest, Google's executives apparently decided not to renew the contract.
Now the company is again in a fix as Googlers are worried about the company’s latest project with China. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
To avoid confusion and bring more clarity in future, the staff has asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
While Sundar Pichai appeased the employees and said, “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record on Dragonfly,” he also noted that the company safeguards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”