Google plans to build a censored search engine for China, and condemnation is coming swift and hard from politicians, Google users, and even some Google employees.
The news emerged in a piece from The Intercept, which obtained documents about an internal Google project to relaunch a search service in mainland China, complete with government censorship. The project is codenamed “Dragonfly” and the new service may take the form of an Android app, according to the report.
Other publications followed The Intercept and confirmed the report. Google hasn’t issued a statement denying the report. A Google representative told Business Insider, “We don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”
Google employees are already discussing the report, and some comments viewed by Business Insider show many are confused or angry. On a chat group used by Googlers, one employee called the situation “the new Maven,” a reference to the controversy inside the company earlier this year over Google’s work with the US military.
Back in 2010, Google pulled its search service out of China because it didn’t want to censor the search results; the move reported Wednesday would mark a departure from that.
“Giving benefit of the doubt until we learn more,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in a tweet on Wednesday. “But reading how Google has plans to help China set up a censored search engine is very disturbing. They won’t help Department of Defense keep us safe but they will help China suppress the truth?”
Rubio was referring to Google’s recent declaration that it would never build artificial-intelligence tools for weapons or programs that could cause harm. Earlier this year, someone inside Google leaked documents that showed Google was providing AI technology to help the Pentagon analyze video footage from drones, as part of a program called Project Maven.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, appeared to yield on most of their demands when he issued a set of AI principles.
But Meredith Whittaker, a New York University research scientist and recognized ethicist in artificial intelligence who also happens to be a Google employee, raised questions publicly about whether Google’s plan to provide a censored search service in China violated the company’s new AI principles.
“WTF!” Whittaker wrote in a Twitter post. “How enabling mass politically-directed censorship of (AI-enabled) search isn’t a violation of Article 19 in turn a violation of Google’s pledge not to build tech that ‘contravenes widely accepted principles of…human rights’ is a mystery indeed.”
To some at Google, the company appears to have dramatically changed its thinking on at least some moral issues. Vanessa Harris, wrote on Twitter that she chose to move from Microsoft to Google because of the ethical stances Google had taken in the past.
“Fun fact: 2 months before I left Microsoft (for Google) I ranted to my manager about how MS had no values, Google had a sufficiently strong moral compass to forgo business in China for greater principles,” Harris wrote. “I have matured now, and will not rant to my manager.”
Work at Google? You can contact the reporter of this story, Greg Sandoval, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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