Following complaints from employees about launching a censored search feature in China, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has assured employees that the company is “not close” to launching in China.
CNN reports that during a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai assured many worried employees that the company is “not close” to launching a censored search product in China. “We are not close to launching a search product in China,” Pichai said, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.
“And whether we would do so, or could do so is all very unclear,” he said. “But the team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now and I think they are exploring many options.” Pichai’s reassurances come shortly after Google employees delivered an open letter to management expressing concerns that building a Chinese censored internet search engine would violate Google’s own ethics policy and “contravene widely accepted principles of international law and human rights:”
The letter stated:
Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough. 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.
The outcry from employees related to reports that Google has plans to launch a censored search engine in China that will blacklist access to certain websites and restrict search terms related to human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, according to leaked documents.
The Google project, codenamed Dragonfly, has been in development since the Spring of 2017, and was accelerated in December 2017, following a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and top Chinese government officials. Google engineers have created custom apps named “Maotai” and “Longfei,” which have already been demonstrated for Chinese officials and could be launched within the next six to nine months.
Whether the projects will go ahead following employee backlash remains to be seen.