1,400 Google Employees Protest Company’s Censored Search Engine For China

Sundar Pichai in an olive green jacket and jeans standing onstage at the Shoreline Amphitheater Mountain View

Google CEO Sundar Pichai says the company isn't close to launching a search product in China. James Martin CNET

Google CEO Sundar Pichai and cofounder Sergey Brin met with employees during an all-hands meeting on Thursday and discussed reports that Google planned to launch a censored search engine in China.

At least 1,400 Google employees signed a letter to company leaders demanding more transparency over a project the tech giant is working on that could be accepted by the Chinese government. Earlier this summer, employees at Amazon.com urged chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos to discontinue partnerships with companies that work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to end the sale of facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies.

A Google representative was not immediately available for comment.

Employee anger flared with a report this month in The Intercept that Google is secretly building a search engine that will filter content banned in China and thus meet Beijing's tough censorship rules. Some employees have raised concerns that helping China suppress the free flow of information would violate these new principles. "And whether we would do so or could so is all very unclear, " Pichai also said.

Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly.

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"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", the protest letter says, according to the Times.

Google services, including its search engine, Gmail and Google Drive, are all blocked in China.

Some of the tension that has lingered at the company - including an earlier controversy regarding Google's work with the military - resurfaced at Thursday's meeting.

The new project is said to be codenamed "Dragonfly".

Pichai told employees: "We'll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here" on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. It has been actively seeking a way back into the country ever since.

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Web users in China can't access Google's service because the government there blocks it as part of its sweeping censorship infrastructure, known as the "Great Firewall".

But according to two sources, when the meeting finally ended, it didn't go unnoticed that many details regarding Google's plans for China were still unknown.

Mr Pichai told staff Google's mission was to "organise the world's information".

"Then the Chinese government can say, 'Google is OK with it too, '" he said.

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