Amnesty International takes on Google over Chinese censored search engine, Project Dragonfly

2 min read

Google has come under continued criticism for its censored Chinese search engine since it was revealed earlier this year.  But the Project – named Project Dragonfly – is today facing a day of action from human rights organization Amnesty International.

Saying that “the app would set a dangerous precedent for tech companies enabling rights abuses by governments,” Amnesty yesterday launched a petition opposing the project, and will be coordinating protests outside Google offices around the world.

Although Google has faced tough criticism – not least from within the organization itself – Amnesty International’s focus on the company represents another major challenge for Google to contend with as it ends a tough 2018.

Arguably, Amnesty has shifted the complexion of the issue. It has forced it to become a question of human rights, not just of business priorities and practical compromises.

What does Amnesty say about Google’s Project Dragonfly?

As you can imagine, Amnesty International is unequivocal in its condemnation of the censored search engine.

Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Technology and Human Rights, said “this is a watershed moment for Google. As the world’s number one search engine, it should be fighting for an internet where information is freely accessible to everyone, not backing the Chinese government’s dystopian alternative.”

One of Amnesty’s biggest fears is that Project Dragonfly could set a precedent. There’s a chance it could make it acceptable for tech companies to cooperate with nations with poor records on human rights.

Westby argued that “if Google is happy to capitulate to the Chinese government’s draconian rules on censorship, what’s to stop it cooperating with other repressive governments who control the flow of information and keep tabs on their citizens?”

What is Amnesty International doing to protest?

Amnesty International has put together a plan to raise awareness of Project Dragonfly, in a bid to gain more support from Google employees and, indeed, the wider public.

Alongside the petition and planned protests, Amnesty also put together a satirical Google recruitment video. If you want to work for Google on the project, you need “great coding skills, five years’ experience, and absolutely no morals.”

How has Google responded to Amnesty International?

Google hasn’t, at the time of publication, responded to any requests for comment. However, CEO Sundar Pichai has always defended Project Dragonfly from criticism, saying that with China accounting for more than 20% of the world’s population, Google is “compelled” to continue on its mission to help spread information to everyone around the world, regardless of who or where they are.

He has also been keen to stress that Project Dragonfly is only an experiment, and has failed to commit to timelines for launching the search engine. It would appear that Google is still testing the waters and seeing if it can find a PR line it thinks employees and the general public will be happy with.

Richard Gall
Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.

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