Google CEO Sundar Pichai claimed Google has “no plans” to “launch a search product in China,” during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, despite hundreds of reports revealing and confirming Google’s work on Project Dragonfly — a censored Chinese search app which has been condemned by human rights organizations.
“I have a concern concerning China. In 2010, Google left the Chinese marketplace due to concerns over hacking attacks, censorship, and how the Chinese government was possibly gaining access to data,” declared Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) during the hearing. “I’m interested in what has changed since 2010, and how working with the Chinese government to censor results are part of Google’s core values.”
“Right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China,” responded Pichai. “It’s part of our core mission and principles to try hard to provide users with information. We always have evidence, based on every country we have operated in, us reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact, and we feel that calling. But right now there are no plans to launch in China. The extent that we ever approach a position like that, I will be very transparent, including with policy-makers here, and engage and consult widely.”
After Marino then asked, “Am I then to understand you have no plans to enter into any agreements with China concerning Google, how it’s used, in China?” Pichai replied, “We currently do not have a Search product there… Right now there are no plans to launch a Search product in China.”
Upon being asked further, Pichai explained, “Anytime we look to operate in a country we would look at what the conditions are to operate. There are times in the past where we debated the conditions to operate, and we explore a wide range of posibilities. Currently it is an effort only internally for us. We are not doing this in China.”
Despite Pichai’s claims that Google has no plans to launch a search product in China, a number of reports and comments from employees have indicated otherwise.
The Intercept reported that Project Dragonfly will blacklist terms and searches about human rights, democracy, and protest, and “comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable.”
Google has also reportedly attempted to keep the project a secret, and ordered employees working on it to “keep quiet” and “deflect questions.”
“We were told to avoid referencing it around our team members, and if they ask, to deflect questions,” claimed one anonymous source to the Intercept, while employees were also reportedly ordered to “delete a memo revealing confidential details” about the project.
Another anonymous source also described Google’s claims that they’re not looking to launch a product in China soon as “bullshit,” and a report claimed privacy and security employees were excluded from meetings about the Chinese project after one employee expressed concerns.
736 Google employees have currently signed an open letter calling on the company to end development of Project Dragonfly.
“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,” the letter proclaimed. “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.”
“We join with Amnesty International in demanding that Google cancel Dragonfly. We also demand that leadership commit to transparency, clear communication, and real accountability,” the employees expressed. “Google is too powerful not to be held accountable. We deserve to know what we’re building and we deserve a say in these significant decisions.”
Project Dragonfly has also faced opposition from human rights organization Amnesty International, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Vice President Mike Pence, who claimed the project would “strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”
In September, a former Google research scientist called the company “unethical,” and claimed oversight of Google was “urgently needed.”