Google workers protest censored China search

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Earlier, more than a thousand Google employees signed a letter protesting the company's secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship.

The latest scandal at Silicon Valley's golden child comes just months after Google employees spoke out about the company's involvement in an initiative developing artificial intelligence technology for the U.S. Defense Department.

"Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment", they added.

China is the world's biggest single internet market, but United States companies are having a hard time there, with Google, Twitter and Facebook all being banned.

Google employees are also sounding the alarm.

Google has since ended its AI contract with the Pentagon.

While Google would like to expand its services in China, it is not clear that it would, or could, said Pichai.

The project, known internally as Dragonfly, was developed largely in secret, prompting outrage among employees who anxious they had been unwittingly working on technology that would help China withhold information from its citizens. Google's employees said they need more information to determine whether it raises "urgent moral and ethical issues". An organization whose leadership declares a Code Yellow would identify a person to "own" the problem and an executive to oversee the process of solving it.

Employees are expected to press management about Dragonfly at a weekly staff meeting Thursday. To do what the engineers are asking in the letter, Google has to agree.

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Activists have long sought to circumvent the effects of the Chinese government's pervasive censorship methods.

Before the staff meeting, employees called for more "transparency, oversight and accountability" - according to an internal petition.

The letter is similar to one thousands of employees had signed in protest of Project Maven, a United States military contract that Google decided in June not to renew. Hundreds of the company's employees have written to headquarters to protest the project, which they say raises "urgent moral and ethical questions".

At the company meeting on Thursday, Pichai said that Google has been "very open about our desire to do more in China", and that the team "has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now" and "exploring many options", CNBC reported.

Over 1,400 employees reportedly signed a petition demanding more insight into the project.

Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly and the remarks at the company meeting are the first time the project has been mentioned since details about it were leaked. Google now has more than 700 employees in China.

We reached out to Google but had not heard back at time of writing. The government would have to approve its return and it has kept US technology firms like Facebook at arm's length, opting instead to work closely with homegrown internet behemoths.

However, Pichai did hint at doing more in the country which is infamous for its restrictive internet policies.

Google now has no presence in China after it removed itself in 2010 over censorship concerns. If anything, China has only tightened its controls in the last eight years - leaving the company in a bind for how to justify its return.

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