Over the past year, Googlers have protested military contracts and the handling of sexual misconduct by management to varying levels of success. Some employees are now taking aim at Project Dragonfly, Google’s rumored search engine in China that would abide by local censorship laws.
A post on Medium today by “Google Employees Against Dragonfly” lays out a case for why the company should “cancel project Dragonfly.” The main argument made today is how a censored search engine “enables state surveillance” and oppression.
Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: 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. 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.
In acquiescing to China, Google risks establishing a precedent where other countries also demand that search queries damaging to authorities and the broader government are blocked.
Dragonfly would also enable censorship and government-directed disinformation, and destabilize the ground truth on which popular deliberation and dissent rely. Given the Chinese government’s reported suppression of dissident voices, such controls would likely be used to silence marginalized people, and favor information that promotes government interests.
Sundar Pichai and Sergey Brin have noted how Dragonfly is still in its early days. Most recently, the Google CEO called it a project to see what Search looks like in China after an eight year absence, and that no firm decisions have been made to continue. Pichai is rumored to be a big advocate for the program given the billion users that Google currently has no access to.
Employees found this response “unsatisfactory” and are now publicly organizing to pressure management to end the project. Today’s letter currently includes 91 signatories with “additional signatures as they come in.” It features senior software engineers, directors, product managers, researchers, and other Googlers in various positions at the company.