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Google employees sign protest letter over China search engine

19 August 2018

The search tech giant, owned by the parent company of Alphabet, choose to quit China eight years ago itself to protest the censorship laws and alleged government hacks being meted out at the company.

This would be Google's second entry into China since it exited the country in. But it has dropped all such scruples in the more recent period.

"Yet most of us only learned about project Dragonfly through news reports in early August".

The letter has been signed by approximately 1,000 people at the company, according to The New York Times, which first reported the dissent.

At an internal meeting on Thursday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai expressed interest in continuing to expand the company's services in China, but told employees that the company was "not close" to launching a search product there and that whether it would - or could - "is all very unclear".

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Earlier this year company employees also protested Google's work with the US military, known as Project Maven, a controversial program that uses artificial intelligence to improve drone targeting. The company did not renew the contract with Pentagon for that project, and also laid out some ethical principles about the use of its Artificial Intelligence. Its collaboration with the U.S. military, however, has intensified, and the company is in the running for a massive Pentagon contract, known as "Project Jedi", to host a large portion of the military's technical infrastructure.

More than 3,500 employees signed a letter protesting against the company's work with the Pentagon's surveillance drones programme.

Google executives have admitted that they are considering the possibility of relaunching their search engine in China after an nearly decade-long absence from the country.

Former Google software engineer Priyendra Deshwal told Bloomberg, "We could see both sides of the coin".

As rumors of the China-based search engine have trickled out in the press, reaction on social media has been negative, with many calling the company's infamous "Don't be evil" motto into question.

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The effect of these measures has been a massive down-ranking of left-wing sites, particularly the World Socialist Web Site, whose search traffic from Google plunged by 75 percent. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can "cause issues".

The platform, which still requires Chinese government approval, would block certain websites and search terms like human rights and religion. Pichai has made clear that the project will go ahead despite political pressure not only from employees, but also from sections of the political establishment that fear it may cut across their anti-China policies.

The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. While it still maintains offices in the country, it has been seeking to increase its presence.

The ultimate outcome of Google's efforts to create a censored search engine in China may well rest on high-level state negotiations.

Rumors of the Chinese-based search engine have circulated over the past few weeks after The Intercept reported that it had seen leaked documents, suggesting the Sundar Pichai-led Google was planning to re-enter China, almost 8 years after leaving the country.

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Google employees sign protest letter over China search engine