Google has locked employees out of sensitive documents, as it faces an employee backlash over its highly secretive plans to unveil a censored search engine for China.
The outrage, reported by The Intercept, centers on Google’s project ‘Dragonfly’, launched in spring 2017, which insiders have described as a ‘censorship engine’ for China’s heavily monitored Internet users. Only a few hundred of the company’s 88,000 workforce were told of the plans – meaning many discovered them via media when the story broke on Wednesday.
“There’s been total radio silence from leadership, which is making a lot of people upset and scared,” one source told the investigative site. “Our internal meme site and Google Plus are full of talk, and people are a.n.g.r.y.”
Google has responded by restricting staff access to sensitive documents related to Dragonfly, in an attempt to plug potential leaks to the press. One employee has already admitted quitting over the project, which has been widely decried as an abandonment of Google’s core values.
The company itself has offered almost no response to the news, other than a boilerplate quote that it does “not comment on speculation about future plans.”
Yet pressure is mounting for Google to explain Dragonfly in more detail. Yesterday a bipartisan group of six US senators, including Florida Republican Marco Rubio, has penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai demanding clarity on Dragonfly – and Google’s recent cloud technology-sharing deal with Chinese web giant Tencent.
The letter, which assumes that Tencent is an arm of China’s Communist Party, raises concerns over “surveillance and social control efforts,” and that Google employees may be forced to attend the country’s mandatory training in ‘Marxist news values’. The letter comes amid a tense trade stand-off between China and Donald Trump’s White House.
“What has changed since 2010 to make Google comfortable cooperating with the rigorous censorship regime in China,” the letter asked.