Employees Demand Google To Kill Secret Chinese Surveillance Search Engine Project

Published on Tuesday morning, Google workers released a letter calling for the higher-ups to cancel a product simply known as Dragonfly. Dragonfly is a censored search app for the Chinese internet market and one that has come to be quite controversial. Also, employees requested the company promise not to fire back at the whistleblowers who have chosen to make public the details of the secret—and internal—project if they believed that knowledge serves the public interest.

In a statement they released ahead of publishing their letter, the Google workers also noted this effort is in partnership with Amnesty International.

A major point they aim to make in the letter is that they do not in opposition of China (as a country) but that they chose to work for Google because of the company’s values but this partnership with the Chinese government demonstrates Google’s unwillingness “to place its values above its profits”.

Because it is so secret—and so internal—you probably don’t know anything about Project Dragonfly, so here is the gist: Project Dragonfly is a search product that Google is developing for mobile users in the Chinese market.  Reportedly, it comes pre-installed in mobile products, as you might expect, but in the case of China, it is also baked in with censorship requests from the Chinese government; and it also, apparently ties search queries to your phone number.

It is that last part that drew the attention of Amnesty International. This organization warns this particular “feature” could provide whoever is monitoring (read: the Chinese government) even more intimate surveillance.  Then, just this past summer, 1,400 Googlers signed a letter politely asking to put Dragonfly to rest. It even resulted in one employee quitting the company simply over Google’s compliance with China’s restrictions.

And that brings us to this morning when some brave Google employees chose not to send the letter to company leadership and/or leak it to the public but instead to post it publicly on Medium.  More importantly, these employees all signed their names to the document, understanding the full value of risk and repudiation that might be in store for them.  Perhaps most important of all:  six of the initial ten workers who signed their names are among senior or leadership roles at the company.