Amid internal backlash over plans to bring a censored search engine to China, about 1,000 Google employees have reportedly sent a letter to company leadership asking for more answers.
“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,” according to the letter obtained by the New York Times. “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”
Allegedly codenamed Dragonfly, the project to launch a search engine that removes content deemed unfit for public consumption by Communist Party authorities was verified by multiple news sources earlier this month. When news broke, several employees expressed outrage over what the letter refers to as “urgent moral and ethical issues.”
Google employees join six members of the United States Senate, who sent a letter earlier this month to CEO Sundar Pichai looking for answers about the reported project.
“It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google — the biggest search engine in the world — to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” the letter states.
Google operated in China until June 2010, when the company halted operations in the country due to concerns about government censorship.
This is the most recent example in the past few months of employees from tech giants questioning working with government authorities.
This spring, when reports surfaced that Google was working on AI to improve drone object recognition for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Project Maven, more than 4,000 employees sent a letter to Pichai (PDF) urging the company to stop. In response, Google announced it will end its contract with the Pentagon and Pichai vowed Google will not help create autonomous weaponry.
Less than two weeks later, more than 100 Microsoft employees asked for an end to its $19.4 million contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency that’s part of the U.S. Homeland Security. ICE was involved with the separation of families who illegally entered the United States. A federal judge has since ordered that families be reunited.
A Microsoft blog in January about the contract mentioned the possibility that it may include facial recognition software services. Microsoft denies the contract had anything to with facial recognition software, but last month president Brad Smith urged Congress to regulate facial recognition software.
At Amazon, both employees and shareholders have asked the company to stop providing facial recognition software to U.S. law enforcement agencies. In response to criticism, Amazon highlighted potential positive use cases for facial recognition software, like the identification of sex trafficking victims.