Google reportedly excluded privacy and security employees from meetings about its “Project Dragonfly” censored Chinese search app after one employee expressed concerns over its potential effect on human rights.
The Intercept published a story, Thursday, featuring comment from several current and former Google employees talking about Project Dragonfly — the censored Chinese search app being developed by Google which will blacklist terms and searches about human rights, democracy, and protest, and link searches to users’ phone numbers.
“Yonatan Zunger, then a 14-year veteran of Google and one of the leading engineers at the company, was among a small group who had been asked to work on Dragonfly,” reported the Intercept. “He was present at some of the early meetings and said he pointed out to executives managing the project that Chinese people could be at risk of interrogation or detention if they were found to have used Google to seek out information banned by the government.”
“Scott Beaumont, Google’s head of operations in China and one of the key architects of Dragonfly, did not view Zunger’s concerns as significant enough to merit a change of course, according to four people who worked on the project,” they continued. “Beaumont and other executives then shut out members of the company’s security and privacy team from key meetings about the search engine, the four people said, and tried to sideline a privacy review of the plan that sought to address potential human rights abuses.”
An unnamed current Google employee also told the Intercept, “They were determined to prevent leaks about Dragonfly from spreading through the company… Their biggest fear was that internal opposition would slow our operations.”
This week, over 300 Google employees signed an open letter against Project Dragonfly, calling on the company to cease development on the project.
“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” proclaimed the open letter. “After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.”
“Google is too powerful not to be held accountable,” it concluded. “We deserve to know what we’re building and we deserve a say in these significant decisions.”
In October, Vice President Mike Pence also called on Google to “immediately end development” on Project Dragonfly, claiming it “will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”