A former employee of Google has warned of the web giant’s ‘disturbing’ plans for a search engine in China which could help Beijing monitor its citizens online.
Jack Poulson wrote in a letter to the US Senate’s commerce committee that the proposed Dragonfly website was ‘tailored to the censorship and surveillance demands of the Chinese government’.
In his letter he also claimed that discussion of the plans among Google employees had been ‘increasingly stifled’.
Mr Poulson was a senior research scientist at Google until he resigned last month in protest at the Dragonfly proposals.
A former employee of Google has warned of the web giant’s ‘disturbing’ plans for a search engine in China which could help Beijing monitor its citizens online
What is China’s internet crackdown?
While China is home to the world’s largest number of internet users, a 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that the country had the most restrictive online use policies of 65 nations it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.
But China has maintained that its various forms of web censorship are necessary for protecting its national security.
It has cracked down on VPNs after the passing of a controversial cybersecurity bill last November that tightened restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposed new rules on service providers.
Since the regulation took effect this June, authorities have closed dozens of celebrity gossip blogs and issued new rules around online video content to eliminate programmes deemed offensive.
In his letter, which has been published in full by Business Insider, Mr Poulson told lawmakers about the ‘disturbing’ plans for Project Dragonfly.
He said they included software to allow a Chinese joint venture company to search for a given user’s search queries based on their phone number.
An alleged list of search terms which could trigger censorship included the English term ‘human rights’ and the Mandarin for ‘student protest’ and ‘Nobel prize’.
Mr Poulson also claimed that air quality figures would be manipulated by the Chinese government so only selected data would appear in search results.
He said: ‘Each of these details was internally escalated by other employees to no avail, and many of them were discussed extensively on internal mailing lists
‘I understand that such discussion has since been increasingly stifled.
‘I cannot speak for those who escalated these concerns, but I share their fear of the possible consequences.’
Mr Poulson said the proposals were contrary to a set of principles on artificial intelligence released by Google in June this year.
Jack Poulson (pictured in an interview with Bloomberg) wrote in a letter to the US Senate’s commerce committee that the proposed Dragonfly website was ‘tailored to the censorship and surveillance demands of the Chinese government’
He pointed to a commitment made by Google not to design ‘technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights’.
Last month a letter to Google from human rights groups including Amnesty International said the new search engine would be ‘an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights’.
‘Google risks becoming complicit in the Chinese government’s repression of freedom of speech and other human rights in China,’ the letter read.
More than 1,000 Google employees, six U.S. senators and at least fourteen human rights groups have written to the company expressing concern about its China ambitions.
Company employees said in their letter they had only learned about Project Dragonfly through news reports in early August.
Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are blocked in China, but Microsoft’s Bing search engine continues to operate.