Google Workers, Amnesty International Protest Censored Search Engine In China

Nov 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This morning, workers at Google have joined Amnesty International in a protest. They are calling for the search engine to stay out of China. Employees and human rights groups have been raising the alarm for some time about the prospect of Google operating in China, allowing content to be censored and for data to be collected by an authoritarian government. Joining us now is NPR tech and business reporter Jasmine Garsd in New York. Hi there, Jasmine.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So explain what's happening here because this is not the first time that Google has set up a search engine in China, right?

GARSD: It's not. So Google had to leave China in 2010 because of government censorship issues. But they've been planning to return under the code name Project Dragonfly. Google's been working on this secretive program to relaunch its search engine in China but with censorship. So it would collaborate with the Chinese government. And people in China who are using the search engine wouldn't be able to look up terms like repression, human rights, Tiananmen Square, Nobel Prize.

GREENE: Wow.

GARSD: Amnesty International also says they wouldn't be able to access Wikipedia or Facebook because all those are red flags for the Chinese government. And this is really important. The search platform would also reportedly make Chinese users - their search records would be accessible to the government.

GREENE: OK, so this all sounds like a really significant step if Google does it. So what are Google workers asking for in this protest exactly?

GARSD: So Amnesty International is organizing widespread protests at Google headquarters around the world today. And Google employees have - they've been vocal about Project Dragonfly for some time now. A few months ago, hundreds of Google employees signed a petition for more transparency on this topic. And this morning, Google employees published a letter in which they join Amnesty International in demanding that Dragonfly just be canceled and that it be explained. And the letter says, quote, "we deserve to know what we're building."

GREENE: Well, is there a chance that Google's leadership is going to listen to its employees here?

GARSD: Well, here's the thing. China is an extremely profitable market for any tech company. And people there already use Google's Android operating system on their phone. They just don't use the search engine. So it's very profitable, but Google has responded to protests before. In fact, Google decided to back out of something called Project Maven, which would provide artificial intelligence to the Defense Department to analyze drone footage. There was just a huge backlash. Several employees quit, and Google backed down.

GREENE: What is happening at Google? I mean, there have been a lot of protests recently. I know we've covered some employees speaking out about sexual harassment policies. There's been concerns about artificial intelligence. What does this say about the company right now?

GARSD: Well, there - voices within the companies questioning the transparency on projects like these have been getting longer - louder. And so, you know, there's been a lot of concern over how much power this company and other tech companies have over people's private lives, over their sensitive information. So, you know, there's this increased activism not just in Google, in many tech companies like Microsoft, like Salesforce. A lot of these tech companies, they were - they have this sense of idealism. They have manifestos. People are attracted to those jobs because of that. But there's this disappointment when something like this happens.

GREENE: Jasmine Garsd, NPR tech and business reporter talking to us from New York. Jasmine, thanks a lot.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.