Friday, 17 August 2018 06:13

China search engine plan creates 'moral crisis', say Google workers Featured

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China search engine plan creates 'moral crisis', say Google workers Pixabay

Internal protests are growing at Google, with employees questioning the company's leaders over a move to launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

The Intercept reported that there was agreement among staff that the project, codenamed Dragonfly, raised "urgent moral and ethical issues" and had circulated a letter to this effect.

Reports about the proposed project were first made by the same publication on 1 August, citing internal documents and people who were said to be familiar with the plans.

Subsequently, there were reports that managers at Google were trying to shut down access to any material connected to the project. Another report said that engineers had used search queries from a Chinese Web directory service owned by the company to develop blacklists for the censored search engine.

The letter was said to be calling on Google's management to acknowledge that there was a "code yellow" situation – an internal alert that a crisis was emerging.

It claims the China project goes against an internal ethical code about Google's artificial intelligence that specifies the company will not create or deploy technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights".

“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment," the letter says.

"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.

"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.”

The project was apparently kicked off after a meeting between Google chief executive Sundar Pichai and Wang Huning, a senior figure in the Chinese Communist Party, last December. Work on the search app was begun during the Western spring of 2017 and had been fast-tracked after the Pichai-Huning meeting.

Following the meeting with Huning, Google decided to open an artificial intelligence research centre in Beijing. In May 2018, a Google file management app was released for Chinese Internet users. And in July, Google released a “Guess The Sketch” game on WeChat, the main Chinese messaging and social media platform.

Google appears to be carrying out the development of the censored search engine along with a second firm, presumably one in China, as Chinese law requires that Internet services companies need to run their servers and date centres within the country.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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