BAILEY T. STEEN | FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2018
“We’ve always tried to accurately define what it meant to be a good force, always doing what’s right, what’s ethical. In the end, [our company motto] ‘don’t be evil’ seemed to be the easiest way to sum it up.”
— Larry Page, former Google CEO
Gone are the days of Larry Page, however, as new reports show Google are currently building a secret prototype system that would tie the search results of their own Chinese users to their personal phone numbers, following demands made by the government. According to an article recently published by The Intercept, a protected whistleblower within the company has revealed Google’s newly developed Android app, codenamed “Dragonfly”, was designed in secrecy in order to meet the Communist Party’s strict requirements regarding censorship and content removal throughout their nation, seeking to limit “political dissidents” and their human rights such as free speech, democracy, and peaceful protest.” These new efforts to track users will inevitably enhance their crackdown of innocent citizens.
“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behaviour,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch, who spoke with The Intercept last week. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”
Citing internal documents verified by the publican, the development began around 2017, during the rise of the “fake news” meme Google swore to address moving into the era of President Donald Trump. Instead, it appears the company have already playing content gatekeeper for a foreign power, reportedly “blacklisting sensitive queries” and filtering out websites blocked by China’s web censors (which include Wikipedia, Facebook, BBC News, among others). The whistleblower also stated the censorship is moving towards Google’s image search, spell check and suggested searches, including simple terms in “student protest” and “Nobel Prize”.
Google, of course, hasn’t confirmed the existence of Dragonfly. The Verge, on multiple occasions, has requested the Silicon Valley search monopoly to comment, however, they’ve denied every single question regarding their unethical relationship with such a totalitarian government. In the past, Google has stated they’re doing simply “exploratory work” to get a search engine up and running in China, stating they were “not close to launching a search product” as of yet. At that time, there was obviously no mention of tracking, censorship, ratting on the innocent, anything that would make the company look fundamentally awful. Their workers aren’t buying it.
Around 1,400 Google employees have allegedly signed a letter demanding the company disclose all information regarding Dragonfly, from their alleged partnerships with state-tied Chinese companies to the extent of the censorship upon the Chinese people. “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.”Jack Poulson, the now-former senior research scientist at Google, resigned from his post with five other employees to protest Dragonfly.
“There are serious worldwide repercussions to this,” Poulson told The Intercept. “What are Google’s ethical red lines? We already wrote some down, but now we seem to be crossing those. I would really like to see statements about what Google’s commitments are.” After this fallout, a bi-partisan group of House representatives asked Google to reveal their efforts to build a Chinese search app, their letter reading that Congress “have a responsibility to ensure that American companies are not perpetuating human rights abuses abroad.”
Around 2010, Page and Eric Schmidt each took the role of CEO, Google pulled out of mainland China following news of censorious phishing attacks targeting human rights activists by the Chinese government. Since these days, the government has only gotten more extreme in its attempt to control their citizenry, whether it’s the “social credit” score system, their use of “brain surveillance” to monitor the productivity of workers and their efforts to illegally detain and monitor Muslims in Xinjiang. But alas, as the situation grows worse, Google only see a new investment.
In his resignation letter, Poulson told his the executives at the company that “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. I view our intent to capitulate to censorship and surveillance demands in exchange for access to the Chinese market as a forfeiture of our values and governmental negotiating position across the globe.” He concluded: “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.”
Thanks for reading!
Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, designer and film critic residing in the heart of Victoria, Australia. He’s also a proud Putin Puppet™ on occasion.
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