Project Dragonfly draws criticism and concerns

By WILLIAM FEOLA
On December 10, 2018

Photo courtesy of Google

Google employees and American citizens have been calling for the popular search engine to cancel “Project Dragonfly,” which is a censored search engine that the company has reportedly been building for the Chinese market.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify in front of Congress on Tuesday, and will field questions from both Democrats and Republicans about their concerns with the project.  

Many worry this project makes Google complicit in the human rights abuses Chinese citizens face every day from their government. The search engine would allow the Chinese government to block its citizens from information it doesn’t like while surveilling political opponents.

A prototype of the product that was shown blocked out words like “human rights,” “Nobel Prize,” and “student protest,” according to The Intercept, a popular online news publication.

They also reported that Google would rely on a Chinese partner company for the infrastructure of the project. This leaves the possibility of search users’ history getting seized by the Chinese government, who arrests and detains citizens who oppose their political views every day.

Pichai said at a conference back in October that while some information is censored, Google could still “serve well over 99 percent” of search queries. He also added that Google wants to “provide information to everyone,” including China, which is home to 1.38 billion people.

Back in August, one thousand employees at Google signed a letter protesting the project. The letter stated that the workers “refuse to build technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent.”

Not only is there an internal conflict, but the project has caused five Google employees to quit as well.

In addition to hiding search results, the search engine would track user’s locations and would share an individual’s search history. It would share the data found with a Chinese partner, which would include information like a user’s phone number, and the data would be available because it would require Chinese citizens to download an app and sign in with personal information.

With more and more people coming out to speak against Google’s plans, the company has released a statement saying that it isn’t close to releasing the project.

“We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China,” it read.

One of Google’s missions is to protect the free-flowing of information online, yet they want to create an engine that restricts that very thing. That’s wrong in so many different ways, and Google should have no part in this project.

Human rights abuses are a major problem in a country like China, and the fact that Google wants to further those abuses is disgusting.

 

wfeola@ramapo.edu

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