Google employees say Project Dragonfly, China search engine plan, 'must stop'

Some workers at Google aren’t too keen about the company’s reported plans to restart the search giant’s operations in China.

At least 10 employees, including engineers, directors and managers, published an open letter on Medium calling for the company to cancel an initiative known as Project Dragonfly, which the workers called “a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance.” The letter has since garnered dozens of additional signatories.

“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 employees wrote. “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.”

The internet giant is said to be developing a China-specific, censored version of its search engine in order to placate the government in Beijing. The browser would allegedly be able to suppress certain search results.

The company has said Project Dragonfly is more akin to a trial, but the proposal entered the national discourse after a leak three months ago.

According to Bloomberg, the initiative is one of Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s principle objectives. China is the world’s largest internet market with more than 800 million users.

The letter claims that thousands of the tech giant’s employees have spoken out against Project Dragonfly throughout recent months, which they say would make the company complicit in oppression and human rights abuses in the country by enhancing the Chinese government’s surveillance powers.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the letter, but reiterated that its work in China is "exploratory,"  and the company is not close to launching a search product in the country,

Workers aren’t the only ones in the company expressing hesitation. Last week, the chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, John Hennessy, questioned whether the search giant would be able to adhere to its core values if it chose to venture into the country.

“Anybody who does business in China compromises some of their core values. Every single company, because the laws in China are quite a bit different than they are in our own country,” Hennessy told Bloomberg. “The question … that I struggle with, is are we better off giving Chinese citizens a decent search engine, a capable search engine even if it is restricted and censored in some cases, than a search engine that’s not very good?”

In September, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he thinks there will be two versions of the internet within 10 years, one run by China and the other by the U.S.

Schmidt added the “danger” that comes along with the innovative products being developed in Beijing is that a different leadership regime will emerge in government, along with censorship and controls. He said other countries may eventually adopt the censored Chinese infrastructure.

The company pulled a censored version of its search engine from the country in 2010.

Google workers have also recently protested the company’s involvement in defense contracts with the government, one of the reasons the company may have ended its bid for a $10 billion cloud contract with the Pentagon. They have also spoken out against the search giant’s treatment of sexual harassment claims.