Photo: Virginia Mayo (AP)
Google’s Project Dragonfly, the controversial project for a censored search product for China, has sparked two separate letters from the company’s employees arguing either for or against the project. As of Friday, however, a letter in opposition of the project had amassed more than 600 signatures, eclipsing the reported figure of a separate letter defending Dragonfly.
The Verge reported Thursday morning that the open letter calling on Google to kill the project had collected more than 400 names, but that figure quickly hiked more than 200 signatures by evening. By contrast, an internal letter in favor of the project obtained by TechCrunch had garnered 500 signatures at the time it was reported on Wednesday, despite having been “in circulation for a number of weeks.”
Employees who rebuked the project in the letter posted to Medium earlier this week aligned themselves with human rights groups who have raised concerns about the project’s censorship and surveillance as well as the potential implication of its adoption.
“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” Google employees wrote. “The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”
Further to their point, the Intercept reported Thursday that Google excluded privacy and security teams from involvement with the project, with former Google security engineer Yonatan Zunger telling the site that one of the project’s central figures Scott Beaumont “did not feel that the security, privacy, and legal teams should be able to question his product decisions, and maintained an openly adversarial relationship with them — quite outside the Google norm.” Beaumont is the head of the company’s operations in China. Per the Intercept:
Google’s leadership considered Dragonfly so sensitive that they would often communicate only verbally about it and would not take written notes during high-level meetings to reduce the paper trail, two sources said. Only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 workforce were briefed about the censorship plan. Some engineers and other staff who were informed about the project were told that they risked losing their jobs if they dared to discuss it with colleagues who were themselves not working on Dragonfly.
“They [leadership] were determined to prevent leaks about Dragonfly from spreading through the company,” said a current Google employee with knowledge of the project. “Their biggest fear was that internal opposition would slow our operations.”
In the wake of the Intercept’s report, Google engineer Liz Fong-Jones called for a mass walkout should the project be greenlit without oversight by Google’s privacy and security teams. Offering to match $100,000 for potential strike or mass resignation funds, Fong-Jones raised more than $200,000 in a matter of hours.
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