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A group of Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur Muslims and human rights activists organized campaign demonstrations outside Google’s offices and headquarters in ten different countries around the world, last Friday. The campaign was aimed at urging Google to drop its censored search engine for China, codenamed “Project DragonFly”, last week.

Project DragonFly is a censored search engine by Google for China.“The app would restrict searches for forbidden or sensitive topics, including ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’, ‘Tiananmen’ and ‘Tibet’..would also facilitate Chinese state surveillance by linking users’ search history with their telephone numbers”, state the protestors.

The campaign consists of a coalition of communities that have suffered persecution by the Chinese government. As a part of the campaign, leaflets were handed out to Google employees and the public, outside of the Google offices, making Google employees and the general public aware of the dangers related to Project DragonFly. Moreover, the organizers have also stated that this will be the first of a series of protests and will continue till the time Google executives confirm that Project DragonFly has been cancelled.

This is not the first time when Google’s Project DragonFly has gotten under the spotlight. It has been facing constant criticism from the public, human rights groups, as well as the company’s own employees. In November 2018, around 300 Google employees signed a petition protesting Project DragonFly. “We are Google employees and we join Amnesty International in calling on Google to cancel project DragonFly”, they wrote on Medium.

Earlier, a report from the Intercept revealed how internal conversations around Google shut out its legal, privacy, and security teams over Project DragonFly, back in November. The whole project was maintained as a secret from the company during the 18 months of its development. Then in December 2018, the Intercept revealed that “internal dispute” led to Google shutting down its data analysis system used for the search engine. “This had effectively ended the project, sources said, because the company’s engineers no longer had the tools they needed to build it”, states the Intercept.

Also, 170 Tibet coalition groups sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai in August 2018, informing him of the serious human rights risks posed by DragonFly, but they never received a response. “By choosing to develop Dragonfly, Google is sending a clear message that censorship is okay and is endorsing the government of China’s crackdown against freedom of speech, online freedom and other human rights”, states the letter.

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Moreover, Google hasn’t spoken out directly related to the Project DragonFly. When Sundar Pichai (Google CEO) was asked about Google’s Project Dragonfly during the Congress hearing in December, he said that “us (Google) reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact and we feel that calling but right now there are no plans to launch in China”, which was considered quite evasive by many.

Google has been surrounded in a barrage of criticism and controversies lately. For instance, last week, a group of Googlers launched a public awareness social media campaign to fight against the forced arbitration policy within Google. Similarly, a group of over 85 coalition groups sent letters to Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, last week, asking them to not sell their facial surveillance technology to the government. Two shareholders sued Alphabet’s board members for protecting senior execs accused of sexual harassment, earlier this month.

“It is utterly shameful that Google’s directors are doing China’s dirty work. Google’s directors must urgently take heed of calls from employees and tens of thousands of global citizens demanding that they immediately halt project dragonfly. If they don’t, Google risks irreversible damage to its reputation,” said Gloria Montgomery, Director at Tibet Society.

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Generative AI at work
Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.