Google’s Project For China

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Dec 2018 12:50:19

BY B SIVARAMAN,

Google employees are objecting to Google’s surrender to the demands of the authoritarian Chinese regime which wanted to censor what the Chinese citizen could search and watch or read on the worldwide web. Hence, six US senators wrote a joint letter to the Google management protesting against its tame surrender before China.

 

GOOGLE employees are at it again. In April 2018, 3,100 out of 4,000 employees at the Google Headquarters signed a letter protesting Google’s contract with Pentagon to develop an Artificial-Intelligence-based autonomous weapons system and forced the Google management not to renew that contract. On 1 November 2018, thousands of Google employees took out marches in scores of cities across the world to protest absence of unbiased and firm policies against sexual harassment at work. On 27 November 2018 again, there was another bout of protest—this time objecting to Google’s surrender to the demands of the authoritarian Chinese regime which wanted to censor what the Chinese citizen could search and watch or read on the worldwide web.


Chinese citizens cannot search with keywords like human rights, authoritarianism, freedom of expression, democracy etc., which are too subversive for the ruling Chinese bureaucracy. Worse, Google also reportedly agreed to the Chinese bureaucracy’s design to link searches with the users’ phone numbers and handover the search data along with these phone numbers to Chinese sources so that Chinese authorities could launch a witch-hunt against dissenters. This whole project is named Dragonfly.


On 27 November 2018, eleven employees first signed a protest petition and by 28 November evening 445 employees had already signed it. Among the signatories were two directors, 36 managers, and 70 senior engineers. And Google employees had already organised protests in eight cities outside Google offices on 27 November in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Spain.


In April, after protests by employees, the Google management agreed not to renew the contract with Pentagon. In early November, in the face of protests by employees against Google management rewarding those who were accused of sexual harassment, the management agreed to most of their demands and even officially had to endorse their protest. But this time they were stonewalling.
Actually, Google had already compromised and conceded to the Chinese Government’s demands for censorship and operated a censored search system in China between 2006 and 2010. When the Chinese Government further tightened the censorship, blocked websites critical of the Chinese regime, curbed freedom of expression in the social media, and started hacking the Gmail accounts of Chinese citizens and their search histories, Google withdrew from China in protest. But as China is ranking No.1 in the world in terms of number of Internet users, the lure of the Chinese market became irresistible. As 95 pc of the Internet users in China use mobile phones for browsing the net, Google started developing an app that could censor searches. With such an app, Google hoped to plead with the Chinese authorities and gain its way back into China.

Considerations for profits prevailed over its professed commitment to principles. Though the Chinese Government had been on a denial mode that it had agreed to allow re-entry by Google, a senior Google executive revealed in an internal meeting that the app would be ready by April-May 2019 and Google would be back in China. The Google management, however, maintained utmost secrecy around the project. In August 2018, some of them circulated a memo internally among Google employees containing details about the project. Then in August itself 1400 Google employees had signed a memorandum to the management protesting against the company giving up its values. But that was kept an in-house affair and it was not revealed on the public domain. Also, seeing no change in the attitude of the management which appeared quite determined to go ahead with the project, the employees too intensified the protest and this time wrote an open letter and even took to the streets.


Earlier, on August 2, 2018, six US senators wrote a joint letter to the Google management protesting against its tame surrender before China and raised some questions. Google had not answered their queries either. And the management continued to be on a denial mode, saying that it was experimental and no firm dates for the launch of the app had been fixed. This created widespread resentment among the employees. So, on 27 November 2018, when the UK-based NGO Amnesty International formally organised protests outside Google offices in eight cities, large number of Google employees joined in. They clarified that the issue at stake was not one of freedom of expression or even right to information from the local authorities. The despotic regime was snatching away the very right to knowledge and wanted to dictate to its citizens what they could read and watch and what they could exchange online. Worse, those who look for information on the web which the Chinese regime considers are inimical to its interests would be monitored and persecuted.


The Google employees even expressed political sagacity in distancing themselves from any anti-socialist crusade by the imperial vested interests in the West by asserting in their 27 November 2018 letter thus: “Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese Government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions”. Thus, the advanced workers have once again shown to be foremost defenders of right to privacy and data security. It is the old fogies in Chinese leadership who have made such a sad spectacle of themselves by demonstrating how far removed they are from the democratic sensibilities of the most advanced millennial workers!