A top Google employee has resigned in protest of the company’s work on a censored search engine for China.
The employee, 32-year-old Jack Poulson, who worked as a senior research scientist for Google’s research and machine intelligence division, first raised concerns at the company in early August after documents published by The Intercept first revealed the project’s existence.
Known internally as Dragonfly, the censored search engine would allow the Chinese government to keep its citizens from accessing any data it deems sensitive.
Poulson, who is believed to be one of at least 5 employees to quit over Dragonfly, told The Intercept‘s Ryan Gallagher that he felt an “ethical responsibility to resign” over the “forfeiture of our public human rights commitments.”
Aside from the censored search engine, Poulson also expressed concern over customer data being hosted in China, a country notorious for targeting dissidents.
Poulson laid out his issues with Dragonfly and Google’s direction in a resignation letter to his superiors.
“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. “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.”
The decision to pursue such projects, Poulson further argued, could lead to other authoritarian regimes making similar demands.
“There is an all-too-real possibility that other nations will attempt to leverage our actions in China in order to demand our compliance with their security demands,” Poulson wrote.
Despite growing outcry over Dragonfly, Google has thus far refused to publicly comment on the project, only stating that it does not discuss “speculation about future plans.”
Just last month a group of leading human rights organizations called on Google to immediately cease its involvement with 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,” a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai 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.”
More than 1,400 Google employees also signed a similar letter last month demanding the company let its workers know what it was developing.
“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough,” the letter said. “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”
Google had previously built a search engine for China in 2006 but ended the program four years later after saying the Communist government attempted to curtail free speech and even tried to hack their computer systems as well.
Pichai, Google’s CEO, also refused earlier this month to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions regarding Dragonfly.