Google beta-tests selling out on its mission

Media reports this week that Google is developing a censored search engine to deploy in China in a project called “Dragonfly.” Complying with China’s restrictions on information, the app would filter out the websites and search terms on the government’s ever-growing blacklist. Access Now condemns censorship and any company that builds products meant to undermine human rights. We urge Google to abandon project Dragonfly, and we stand in solidarity with employees who refuse to support a project that would make the company a tool of repression.

In 2010, the company famously announced, “we have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on” If Google were to continue with project Dragonfly, it would mean that leadership has abandoned the company’s mission to “[o]rganize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google would also betray promises made as a founder of the Global Network Initiative to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy.

“Moving ahead with Dragonfly would signal a distressing failure of leadership at Google. Launching a censored search app would be a clear indication the company is willing to sell out its very mission in a speculative bid for future profits. We condemn the development of specialized tools for censorship and further human rights violations in China, and condemn what would amount to a two-bit tap dance on the grave of the company’s founding principles. We hope those inside the company fighting against project Dragonfly win the battle for Google’s soul,” said Peter Micek, general counsel at Access Now.

This disturbing news that a censored, app-version of Google search could be available for launch comes close on the heels of Google and then Amazon’s decisions to kill “domain fronting,” a technique allowing users in China and elsewhere to evade censors and communicate more securely. Two U.S. senators recently wrote to the companies demanding an explanation of that move, which caters to repressive regimes. Meanwhile, Google is reeling from an internal revolt over its participation in Project Maven, which aims to provide the Pentagon with AI to analyze drone data. The growth-at-all-costs model is unsustainable for the internet ecosystem and detrimental to human rights.

“By killing domain fronting and coddling Chinese censors and U.S. military intelligence, Google is implying it has a new approach to the open internet, human rights, and its mission. It’s an approach that favors the powerful over the vulnerable, that favors profit over the free and open internet, and favors growth over a commitment to values,” said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at Access Now.

“Google remains a leader and an icon in Silicon Valley and beyond, and other companies follow its lead. If Google does not publicly dispel and reconsider this initiative, it is telling governments across the world that it prefers facilitating government demands in order to ensure business opportunities, to defending the internationally protected human rights of users to free expression and access to information, betraying its own stated ideals and mission,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, policy director at Access Now.

Access Now calls upon Google to:

  • Drop the plans to develop any censored products, including Dragonfly;
  • Account for these lapses, and explain its direction, including whether and how it plans to integrate human rights into its business development decisions, to both employees and outside stakeholders; and
  • Allow the Global Network Initiative complete access to decision-makers in order to produce reports on the projects Maven and Dragonfly, and the killing of domain fronting, in consultation with civil society.

Access Now has received funding from Google since 2010. Read more about our financials and funding policy here.