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Briefing: US lawmakers question Google over China search engine

16 September 2018

Jack Poulson told his bosses he was forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the failure to protect dissidents.

Google management last month acknowledged that it has considered returning to the communist country.

Poulson reportedly said that Google did not answer whether it would agree to Chinese demands.

About 1,000 employees signed an open letter asking the company to be transparent about the project and to create an ethical review process for it that includes rank-and-file employees, not just high-level executives, according to CNET.

"In early August, Poulson raised concerns with his managers at Google after The Intercept revealed that the internet giant was secretly developing a Chinese search app for Android devices".

"The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities' repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China", the letter says. Eventually, a petition made the rounds with Google workers demanding that the search giant sever ties with the military project. In a secret deal, Google provided AI tools to the Pentagon that helped analyze drone video footage. Pichai became Google's CEO in 2015, taking over from co-founder Larry Page, who became CEO of Alphabet, the holding company that owns Google. Among them is a promise to never build AI-enhanced weapons and to never create technology "whose objective contravenes widely accepted principles of global law and human rights".

Google, on the other hand, has declined to comment on the Poulson's departure from the company saying it was against the company's policy to comment on individual employees.

What happened: Yesterday, a bipartisan group of 16 United States lawmakers addressed a letter to Google questioning the company over its reported plans to re-launch its search engine in mainland China. The news that Google's leadership might be willing to censor information stunned and bewildered some rank-and-file employees.

In 2010, Google famously announced it was leaving China, specifically mentioning China's censorship tactics as a reason for pulling out of the country. The consequences to Google's moral stances have meant lost revenue in the years since.

China is a massively important market for many tech firms. Subsequently, there have been reports about internal unrest among Google employees over the project, which is codenamed Dragonfly.

Facebook's website is also banned in China but the company has also signaled its interest to enter the market.

Briefing: US lawmakers question Google over China search engine