Google's controversial Dragonfly project sparks employee backlash

A group of almost 700 Google employees signed a letter calling on the tech giant to halt its potential plans to build a censored search engine for China — known as Dragonfly — saying it would "enable state surveillance" in the communist country.

The letter, published Tuesday on Medium, was originally signed by only 11 employees but has grown exponentially in a few days. In the letter, a large group of Googlers publicly align themselves with organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have also urged the Mountain View, Calif.-based company to reconsider its plans to develop a censored search engine for China's 800 million-plus internet users.

The employees claim their opposition to the product, which reportedly would link cell phone numbers to internet search results and comply with the Chinese regime's censorship rules, isn't about China specifically.

"We object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent," the letter states. "Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions."

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Even so, the employees note recent reports that Chinese authorities have been cracking down on students, women's rights advocates and Muslim Uyghurs.

"Dragonfly would also enable censorship and government-directed disinformation, and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely," the employees write, noting that such controls can be used to silence marginalized voices.

When contacted for a statement, a Google spokesperson had no comment on the new letter but directed Fox News to its previous statement:

“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.”

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The employees say that many of them took jobs at Google hoping that the firm would be "willing to place its values about its profits," but they believe that the last year's developments have shown this is no longer the case. "Google is too powerful not to be held accountable," they write at the letter's conclusion.

This new letter is the latest example of internal dissent at Google, which is parting ways with Project Maven, a controversial military program that uses AI for drone targeting, saw 17,000 employees walk out to protest sexual harassment and pay inequality a few weeks ago, and saw 1,400 employees sign a letter asking for transparency and accountability around the Dragonfly project.

The growing wave of tech dissent has also hit Amazon, which received a letter signed by 450 employees decrying its facial recognition software being sold to police departments and Microsoft, which received a letter signed by 300 workers protesting its contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.