Google employees organize against censored search service for China

Kenny Grant
August 18, 2018

Over a thousand Google employees have signed a letter protesting against the company's secret plan to build a censored search engine specifically designed for China.

In the letter, the employees call for Google to declare a Code Yellow - a standardized way that engineering organizations can address a problem that spans multiple groups - to talk about its ethics and transparency. This time around, they're taking issue with Google's decision to create a government-approved search app for China, according to a New York Times report published on Thursday.

As a direct result of government censorship, American internet giants including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all now banned in China.

Google, which has never spoken publicly about the plans, declined to comment. The absence of a gathering - the result of a regularly scheduled break in the summer, according to company spokesman Rob Shilkin - led to fears among employees that leadership was becoming less transparent following several controversies over Google's government work.

This has angered some employees who fear they have been unwittingly working on technology that will help China suppress free expression.

Over 1,400 employees reportedly signed a petition demanding more insight into the project.

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Chief executive Sundar Pichai told staff that Google is in the "early stages" of considering a return to China, Bloomberg reported, but that the company is not close to finalizing a search product. Just earlier this year, it was reported that employees protested against Google's collaboration with the Pentagon to improve military tech.

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.

Google has maintained a significant presence in China even though its flagship services are not accessible in the country. Google now has more than 700 employees in China.

Mr Pichai told staff Google's mission was to "organise the world's information".

Retired Staff Sergeant Johnny Jones discusses the reports that Google plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will block particular websites and search terms. The app is said to comply with Chinese government censorship guidelines.

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