Human rights groups urge Google to drop plans for China 'censorship engine'

Google’s China plan is ‘an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights’

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Google booth at trade show in Beijing, China in 2016.

Google booth at trade show in Beijing, China in 2016. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A group of 14 prominent human rights groups have called on U.S. tech giant Google to drop its plans to re-enter the Chinese market, arguing such a move is akin to participating in the human rights abuse of millions of Chinese internet users, in an open letter published on Aug. 28.

The open letter described Google's plan as "an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights," and urged the company to publicly address concerns regarding the secretive project codenamed "Dragonfly."

Whistle blowers inside Google revealed earlier this month that Google is preparing to relaunch operations in China and was testing a search engine that complies with China's strict internet censorship. This project is codenamed "Dragonfly" and drew significant concern within Google.

"Dragonfly" led to hundreds of Google staff to write a letter to senior leadership, demanding additional transparency and to be given the courtesy of understanding the broader context of their work. The letter was signed by at least 1,400 Google employers, reported the New York Times.

Google's past attempt to break into the China market failed in 2010, after first launching a censored search engine the world's most populous country in 2006. Google abandoned its China foray after low growth, concerns from shareholders, and mounting criticism from human rights groups.

The open letter supported the resistance by Google employees and said if Google was to reenter China, it would be complicit in the Chinese government's widespread violation of freedom of expression and privacy for millions of internet users.

"It is difficult to see how Google would currently be able to relaunch a search engine service in China in a way that would be compatible with the company's human rights responsibilities under international standards, or its own commitments," the letter reads.

The letter went on to blast Google's leadership for its incomplete and evasive response to public outcry over the secretive program. In a statement, Google said in general terms that the company does not comment on "speculation about future plans".

"Google's refusal to respond substantively to concerns over its reported plans for a Chinese search service falls short of the company’s commitment to accountability and transparency" says the letter.

The open letter goes on to call for Google to publicly commit to protecting whistle blowers, and to address concerns by employers over "Dragonfly."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in their press statement said: 

RSF is particularly concerned about the safety of journalists and their sources if Google were to follow the policies of information censorship and digital surveillance led by President Xi Jinping's regime. China occupies the bottom of the RSF Freedom of the Press Index (176th out of 180 countries) and sees more than 50 imprisoned journalists.

The open letter was signed by the following organizations:

Access Now
Amnesty International
Article 19
Center for Democracy and Technology
Committee to Protect Journalists
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Human Rights in China
Human Rights Watch
Independent Chinese PEN Centre
International Service for Human Rights
PEN International
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders
WITNESS.