Google's 'Project Dragonfly' censored search engine triggers protests

"Google should hold American values," one activist said. "It’s not just about money or business, it is about the values people carry in this country."

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By Olivia Solon

Human-rights activists planned to protest outside Google offices in 10 countries Friday to urge the company to scrap the censored search engine it developed for the Chinese market, which is codenamed "Project Dragonfly."

The Stop Google Censorship campaign comprises a coalition of groups representing communities that have faced persecution by the Chinese government, including Tibetans and Uighur Muslims.

They said gatherings were expected outside Google offices in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark to highlight how a censored search engine could be used to monitor the searches of individuals, censor activists and spread disinformation to the country’s residents.

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“One of the huge concerns about Dragonfly is the fact that Google will be agreeing to share the data of individuals who make searches such as for the ‘Dalai Lama’ or ‘human rights’ or ‘democracy’ with the Chinese authorities,” said Mandie McKeown from the London-based International Tibet Network, which is coordinating the campaign. “This puts people in terrible jeopardy and danger of arrest, disappearance and torture — a whole wealth of human rights concerns — for simply carrying out a search for information.”

Rushan Abbas, director of Campaign for Uyghurs, is all-too familiar with the risks faced by some minorities in China. She says her sister Gulshan is one of up to a million Uighurs who have been detained and taken to internment camps, which the Chinese government characterizes as “re-education centers.”

“Google should hold American values and should condemn the request to develop a censored search engine," Abbas said. "They should not even consider it. It’s not just about money or business, it is about the values people carry in this country."

The human-rights groups have links with workers inside the company, who have been protesting Project Dragonfly under the "Googlers Against Dragonfly" banner since details of the secretive project became public in a report by The Intercept last August.

The campaign builds on an effort spearheaded by Amnesty International in November year, calling for Google to #DropDragonfly.

Friday’s protest is aims to encourage Google employees to pressure the company’s management to issue a more definitive statement about the status of Dragonfly.

The Intercept has reported the project “effectively ended” last month, but Google has not confirmed this.

In December, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai appeared before Congress, where he stated that there were no plans to launch the search engine “right now” but he refused to rule it out in the future.

“We are calling on Sundar Pichai to make a much stronger statement about DragonFly. He’s been very evasive and we know from Google employees that it’s a bit early to call victory,” said Sondhya Gupta from campaign group SumofUs, which seeks to curb the power of corporations.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.