China: Human rights groups & employees call on Google not to launch censored search engine saying it would violate rights to expression & privacy

According to media reports, Google plans to launch a censored search engine in China that blocks sensitive information. In August 2018, 14 human rights organisations, including Access Now, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Human Rights Watch, issued an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai calling on Google to refrain from launching a censored search engine in China (known as "Project Dragonfly"). The letter says that the censored search engine represents “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights” and could result in the company “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations.”

Google employees have also expressed concerns about Project Dragonfly, with more than 1,400 signing a letter calling for an ethics review structure that includes rank and file employee representatives; the appointment of ombudspeople; a plan for transparency that allows employees an ethical choice about what they work on; and ethical assessments of Google projects, including Dragonfly. In addition, at least one Google employee has resigned in protest.

On 27 November 2018, Google employees released another letter calling on Google to cancel Project Dragonfly.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Google to respond to allegations related to Project Dragonfly; it did not. 

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22 October 2018

Google CEO says tests of censored Chinese search engine turned out great and time has come to reevaluate decision to pull out from China

Author: Nitasha Tiku, Wired

"Google’s CEO Says Tests of Censored Chinese Search Engine Turned Out Great", 15 Oct 2018

Google’s internal tests developing a censored search engine in China have been very promising, CEO Sundar Pichai said on stage…as part of the WIRED 25 Summit…Pichai did not back away from Google’s controversial decision to build a censored search engine in China…codenamed Project Dragonfly, saying the potential to expose the world to more information is guiding Google’s push into China. “We are compelled by our mission [to] provide information to everyone, and [China is] 20 percent of the world's population.”

Pichai was careful to emphasize that this was a decision that weighs heavy on the company. “People don't understand fully, but you're always balancing a set of values,” in every new country, he said. Those values include providing access to information, freedom of expression, and user privacy. “But we also follow the rule of law in every country,” he said. This is a reversal of a decision from about eight years, when Google pulled its search engine, which was also censored, from the Chinese market. Pichai said the time had come to reevaluate that choice…

Pichai was just as non-committal when discussing Google’s work with the Department of Defense, in particular the company’s controversial contract, nicknamed Project Maven, to build AI and facial recognition technology that could be used for drone warfare…Earlier this month, Google also announced that it would not be bidding for Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative, or JEDI… [also mentions]

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Author: 王山, 法國國際廣播電台(RFI)

谷歌執行長皮採(Sundar Pichai)日前承認,他們正在研發可在中國使用的審查版搜尋引擎,這項被稱作“蜻蜓計劃”(Project Dragonfly)的研發仍在初級階段。

谷歌8年前因堅持“不作惡”的理念拒絕中共的審查而退出中國市場,但今年8月卻傳出要重返中國的消息。 “蜻蜓計劃”引發谷歌員工和人權人士的批評,他們擔心谷歌會變成科技幫兇,協助中國打壓言論自由。計劃9月曝光後,有超過1000名谷歌員工聯署公開信要求增加透明度;該公司高級科學家保爾森(Jack Poulson)也因此提出辭職。美國副總統彭斯本月初呼籲谷歌立即停止“蜻蜓計劃”,他指出谷歌的計劃損害中國消費者隱私。 16位美國國會議員早前致信谷歌,質詢該公司是否為了重返中國市場而準備配合中國政府信息過濾和監測用戶...



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Company response
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Author: 王山, 法国国际广播电台 (RFI)

谷歌执行长皮采(Sundar Pichai)日前承认,他们正在研发可在中国使用的审查版搜寻引擎,这项被称作“蜻蜓计划”(Project Dragonfly)的研发仍在初级阶段。

谷歌8年前因坚持“不作恶”的理念拒绝中共的审查而退出中国市场,但今年8月却传出要重返中国的消息。“蜻蜓计划”引发谷歌员工和人权人士的批评,他们担心谷歌会变成科技帮凶,协助中国打压言论自由。计划9月曝光后,有超过1000名谷歌员工联署公开信要求增加透明度;该公司高级科学家保尔森(Jack Poulson)也因此提出辞职。美国副总统彭斯本月初呼吁谷歌立即停止“蜻蜓计划”,他指出谷歌的计划损害中国消费者隐私。16位美国国会议员早前致信谷歌,质询该公司是否为了重返中国市场而准备配合中国政府信息过滤和监测用户...



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28 September 2018

Google executive says co. is "not close to launching a search product in China"

Author: Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times

"Google confirms 'Project Dragonfly' for China," 26 September 2018

A Google executive has for the first time publicly confirmed the existence of the company’s ‘Project Dragonfly’ venture to build new search tools for China, during a tense hearing with US lawmakers about online privacy. “There is a Project Dragonfly,” Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer, told a Senate committee hearing..."We are not close to launching a search product in China.”... Hundreds of Alphabet employees have protested the idea that Google might censor search results and potentially give Chinese authorities access to individuals’ data.  “We design and launch products with an eye towards making the benefits of technology around the world as broadly as we can,” Mr Enright said, but any relaunch in China would be “consistent with our values in privacy and data protection”. “I take pride in Google’s record on human rights,” he added. 

Mr Enright was forced to defend what many see as a potential compromise of Google’s privacy values at the same time as pushing for new federal data protection legislation in the US that would override state-by-state rules... Despite opposition from Silicon Valley companies, California recently passed sweeping new privacy legislation, in the wake of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)... Alongside Google, officials from Apple, Amazon, Twitter, AT&T and Charter Communications all said they supported federal legislation— albeit with a variety of qualifiers that suggested they did not want any national rules to constrain the services they currently offer to consumers... [S]enators quizzed Apple and Google about apps for their smartphones that gathered data from children, and Amazon about its facial recognition technology. 

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Company non-response
18 September 2018

Google did not respond

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Google to respond to a letter from human rights organizations calling on Google to refrain from launching a censored search engine in China, saying it would violate freedom of expression and right to privacy. It did not.

14 September 2018

Google prototype reportedly links searches to phone numbers raising concerns re surveillance

Author: Ryan Gallagher, The Intercept

"Google China prototype links searches to phone numbers," 14 Sept 2018

Google built a prototype of a censored search engine for China that links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, thus making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor people’s queries... The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed for Android devices, and would remove content deemed sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest... Previously undisclosed details about the plan... show that Google compiled a censorship blacklist that included terms such as “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin... A central concern expressed by [human rights] groups is that, beyond... censorship, user data stored by Google on the Chinese mainland could be accessible to Chinese authorities, who routinely target political activists and journalists.

... [According to] Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”... Sources familiar with Dragonfly said the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing... Google has so far declined to publicly address concerns about the Chinese censorship plans and did not respond to a request for comment on this story. In the six weeks since the first details about Dragonfly were revealed, the company has refused to engage with human rights groups, ignored dozens of reporters’ questions, and rebuffed U.S. senators.

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13 September 2018

Google employees are quitting over the company’s secretive China search project

Author: Caroline O' Donovan, BuzzFeed News

A list that names seven employees who say they quit their jobs at Google over a lack of corporate transparency is circulating within the company’s ranks...  One of the names on the list is that of former Google senior scientist Jack Poulson, who worked for the company in Toronto before resigning over Dragonfly last month... “I’m offended that no weight has been given to the human rights community having a consensus,” he said. “If you have coalition letter from 14 human rights organizations, and that can’t even make it into the discussions on the ethics behind a decision, I’d rather stand with the human rights organizations in this dispute.” Regarding Poulson’s departure, a spokesperson for Google said, “It is our policy to not comment on individual employees."... In his resignation letter, Poulson said he called for Google executives to address the Code Yellow demands. To date, that letter has over 1,700 signatures, and those interested in discussing issues of ethics and transparency have been planning to meet in person, sources said... “We can debate whether or not [Dragonfly] was going to be deployed, but that’s almost irrelevant because the AI ethics claim that they promise not even to design it,” Poulson said. “At what stage do engineers have a voice? … What I worry about is, once something is built and is ready to launch, the power has been transferred out of the engineers’ hands to a small group of people’s hands. You’ve effectively de-democratized the ethics of the development project.”

“We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China,” a spokesperson for Google said regarding this story.

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13 September 2018

Google's China plan spurs inquiry from U.S. lawmakers, staff departures

Author: David Shepardson & Paresh Dave, Reuters

A bipartisan group of 16 U.S. lawmakers asked Alphabet Inc’s Google... if it would comply with China’s internet censorship and surveillance policies should it re-enter the Chinese search engine market... 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... Jack Poulson, a research scientist who had worked for Google for more than two years, said he resigned because he felt the company was not honoring its commitment to human rights norms in designing the search app... 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.”... Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, said in their letter on Thursday they had “serious concerns”... 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.” 

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28 August 2018

Open letter from human rights groups to Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Author: Access Now, Amnesty Int'l, Human Rights Watch, 11 other organizations & 4 individuals

"Open letter to Google on plans to launch a censored search engine in China"

Like many of Google’s own employees, we are extremely concerned by reports that Google is developing a new censored search engine app for the Chinese market. The project, code-named “Dragonfly”, would represent an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights. The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China. We support the brave efforts of Google employees who have alerted the public to the existence of Dragonfly, and voiced their concerns about the project and Google’s transparency and oversight processes. In contrast, company leadership has failed to respond publicly to concerns over Project Dragonfly, stating that it does not comment on “speculation about future plans”... It is difficult to see how Google would currently be able to relaunch a search engine service in China in a way that would be compatible with the company’s human rights responsibilities under international standards, or its own commitments... [T]here is a high risk that the company would be directly contributing to, or complicit in, human rights violations... Google has a responsibility to respect human rights that exists independently of a state’s ability or willingness to fulfil its own human rights obligations. Google’s refusal to respond substantively to concerns over its reported plans for a Chinese search service falls short of the company’s commitment to accountability and transparency... We are calling on Google to publicly commit to protect whistle-blowers in the company and to take immediate steps to address the concerns employees have raised about Project Dragonfly.

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28 August 2018

World's leading human rights groups tell Google to cancel its China censorship plan

Author: Ryan Gallagher, The Intercept

Leading human rights groups are calling on Google to cancel its plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, which they said would violate the freedom of expression and privacy rights of millions of internet users in the country. A coalition of 14 organizations — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Access Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, PEN International, and Human Rights in China — issued the demand Tuesday in an open letter addressed to the internet giant’s CEO, Sundar Pichai... The censored search engine would remove content that China’s ruling Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest... Google launched a censored search engine in China in 2006, but ceased operating the service in the country in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech... The open letter...asks Google to reaffirm the commitment it made in 2010 to no longer provide censored search in China... Google has not yet issued any public statement about the China censorship, saying only that it will not address “speculation about future plans.”

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