Google reportedly ordered its employees to delete an internal memo detailing its controversial plan for a censored search engine in China.
The confidential document, according to a new report from The Intercept, reveals the secretive search engine not only requires users to link their identity and location to searches by logging into an account, but that a Chinese partner would be granted “unilateral access” to the data.
Google soon discovered that the memo had begun circulating this month among unauthorized employees opposed to the project and demanded the content be purged from all devices.
“Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers,” The Intercept, citing three sources, reported. “Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained ‘pixel trackers’ that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.”
Designed to censor information deemed sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party, the search engine, which will be available as apps for both Android and iOS, will also link users’ searches to their phone number as well.
“The memo adds that Chinese users’ movements would also be stored, along with the IP address of their device and links they clicked on,” The Intercept states. “It accuses developers working on the project of creating ‘spying tools’ for the Chinese government to monitor its citizens.”
Sources also said a prototype of the search engine blacklisted results on specific queries including “human rights,” “Nobel Prize” and “student protest.”
The Intercept also reports that Google is believed to have a special internal unit known as “stopleaks” tasked with “preventing unauthorized disclosures.”
U.S. lawmakers just last week sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai demanding answers regarding the Dragonfly project.
“Google should not be helping China crack down on free speech and political dissent,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) tweeted. “I just sent this letter with some of my Republican and Democratic colleagues raising our serious concerns and questions about what they’re doing.”
NEW: Google should not be helping China crack down on free speech and political dissent. I just sent this letter with some of my Republican and Democratic colleagues raising our serious concerns and questions about what they’re doing. pic.twitter.com/fZ0wlabzS7
— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) September 13, 2018
That same day a report from The Intercept also revealed that senior Google scientist Jack Poulson quit over the project after he says his concerns were ignored.
“Due to my conviction that dissent is fundamental to functioning democracies, I am forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the erosion of protection for dissidents,” Poulson wrote in a resignation letter to Google. “I view our intent to capitulate to censorship and surveillance demands in exchange for access to the market as a forfeiture of our values and governmental negotiating position across the globe.”
More than 1,400 Google employees also signed a letter to Pichai last month seeking information on “what we’re building.”
A group of leading human rights organizations wrote a similar letter to Pichai last month as well, calling on Google to immediately end the project.
“Like many of Google’s own employees, we are extremely concerned by reports that Google is developing a new censored search engine app for the Chinese market,” the letter said. “The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accomodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China.”
Google and Pichai, who recently drew the ire of the U.S. government after refusing to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, has thus far declined to publicly comment on Dragonfly.