Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan
20 Aug 2018

Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.

Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.

Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”

Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.

Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.

After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the U.S. military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.

The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”

“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.

The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.

– By Joseph Menn, Paresh Dave, Reuters, 16 August 2018.

Link to Reuters.

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