Google’s plan to build Chinese search engine spurs government inquiry

Google’s secretive plan to build a search engine in China spurs inquiry from Congress, as employees resign over ‘forfeiture of our values’

  • US legislators have ‘serious concerns’ about Google’s reported plans in China
  • Additionally, seven employees are said to have quit over a lack of transparency
  • Recent reports have suggested Google plans to build a censored version of its search engine in China, as part of a mysterious project called ‘Dragonfly’ 

Google’s secretive plans in China are attracting even more scrutiny. 

A bipartisan group of 16 US lawmakers asked Google on Thursday if it would comply with China’s internet censorship and surveillance policies should it re-enter the search engine market there. 

Recent reports have suggested Google plans to build a censored version of its search engine in China, as part of a project called ‘Dragonfly.’ 

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A bipartisan group of 16 US lawmakers asked Google if it would comply with China’s internet censorship and surveillance policies should it re-enter the search engine market there

CHINESE INTERNET CRACKDOWN

While China is home to the world’s largest number of internet users, a 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that the country had the most restrictive online use policies of 65 nations it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.

But China has maintained that its various forms of web censorship are necessary for protecting its national security.

It has cracked down on VPNs after the passing of a controversial cybersecurity bill last November that tightened restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposed new rules on service providers.

Since the regulation took effect this June, authorities have closed dozens of celebrity gossip blogs and issued new rules around online video content to eliminate programmes deemed offensive.

Google has faced mounting pressure to disclose precautions it would take to protect the safety of its users if Chinese regulators allow its search engine to operate.     

More than 1,000 Google employees, six U.S. senators and at least fourteen human rights groups have written to the company expressing concern about its China ambitions.

Since then, a list has been circulating inside the company detailing seven employees who say they quit their jobs at Google over a lack of transparency.  

One of those employees includes Jack Poulson, a research scientists who had worked for Google for more than two years. 

Poulson said he resigned because he felt the company was not honoring its commitment to human rights norms in designing the search app.  

He told Reuters that executives would not specify to him where the company would draw the line on agreeing to Chinese demands.


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‘Unfortunately, the virtually unanimous response over the course of three very vocal weeks of escalation was: “I don’t know either,”‘ Poulson said.

He was among a handful who resigned, he told the Intercept online publication, which first reported on his action.

More than 1,000 Google employees, six U.S. senators and at least fourteen human rights groups have written to the company expressing concern about its China ambitions

Google declined to comment directly on the lawmakers’ letter or the resignations but said in a statement it had been ‘investing for many years to help Chinese users’ and described its ‘work on search’ for China as ‘exploratory’ and ‘not close to launching.’

Reuters reported last month that Google planned to seek government clearance to provide a version of its search engine in China that blocks some websites and search terms.

Programmers and engineers at the company have created several versions of an Android app, called ‘Maotai’ and ‘Longfei,’ one of which has been presented to the Chinese government. 

Should it be approved by government officials, a final version could be launched as soon as the next six to nine months. 

The app would have to comply with China’s rigid censorship laws, which would mean restricting access to content that government officials consider unfavorable, according to the Information, which first reported the rumored project. 

Search terms about human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protests will be blocked from the app.  

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, said in their letter on Thursday they had ‘serious concerns’ about the potential step.

Google declined to comment but said it had been ‘investing for many years to help Chinese users’ and described its ‘work on search’ for China as ‘exploratory’ and ‘not close to launching’

The letter asked if Google would ‘ensure that individual Chinese citizens or foreigners living in China, including Americans, will not be surveilled or targeted through Google applications.’ 

Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat and signer of the letter, wrote on Twitter that ‘Google should not be helping China crack down on free speech and political dissent.’

The company could face questions about China when it testifies on privacy issues before a Senate panel on Sept. 26. 

Google’s main search platform has been blocked in China since 2010, but it has been attempting to make new inroads into the world’s largest smartphone market by users.

Google’s re-entry is not guaranteed as China has stepped up scrutiny of business dealings involving U.S. tech firms including Facebook Inc and Apple Inc amid intensifying trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.

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