Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees during a meeting that the company is not close to opening its own Chinese search engine. That reports financial news agency Bloomberg based on a transcript of the meeting.
Pichai would also have said that it is very uncertain whether a search engine in China will be released at all. The search engine is said to be still in an exploratory, early stage. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is also said to have attended the meeting, reassuring those present that Google will not abandon its principles. Two sources familiar with the discussion during the meeting informed Bloomberg. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
The Google CEO is also said to have said that Google’s mission is to organize the information in the world. He also stated that a fifth of the world’s population lives in China and that Google should seriously think about how the company can do more in China. “I sincerely believe that we have a positive impact in the world and I see no reason why it should be any different in China,” Pichai said, according to the report. “We will definitely become more transparent once we have a plan or record.”
The New York Times reported Monday evening that 1,400 Google employees sent a letter to the company’s management, demanding transparency about, among other things, the Chinese search engine, the Dragonfly project. In the letter they complain that most employees only became aware of this project through news reports at the beginning of August. They point out that Google withdrew its search engine from China eight years ago, which Brin motivated at the time by pointing to certain signs of totalitarianism and censorship in China.
The signatories argue that the choices Google makes have a global impact and that they do not have enough information to make ethical choices about their work. They demand that there is more transparency and that people can learn more about what is being built. To this end, they want, among other things, that a plan be drawn up to achieve greater transparency and that ombudsmen be appointed.
The Dragonfly project is a censored version of a search app that Google plans to release in China. For example, this Android app would censor search results on topics such as human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protests, in accordance with the wishes of the Chinese government. The Intercept came up with this message in early August and Google did not deny it at the time. Recently, the same website reported that Google uses a Chinese site for its censorship, so that it can compile a blacklist of websites to be blocked.
This isn’t the first time Google employees have expressed concern about projects initiated by top management. In April, a large number of Pichai employees protested about the development of AI technology for the US military. The intention was to use machine learning to interpret video images from drones; that could then be used for military purposes. The employees did not want this to be used to deploy weapons. Google eventually decided not to renew the contract with the Pentagon.