Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday tried to limit concerns among employees over reports that the company is planning to re-enter the Chinese market. Pichai told Google employees that the company is “not close to launching a search product in China.”
The India-born CEO told employees that the company is not ready to launch a search product, but is looking at how to do more in the country, WSJ reports. Pichai clarified Google’s plans during a weekly all-hands employee meeting at headquarters in Mountain View, California. The employee meeting was intended to address concerns around company developing a search product that would allow the Chinese government to censor results for its citizens.
After reports emerged that Google is working on a secret project codenamed Dragonfly, more than 1,000 employees protested objected to the company working on a censored product. The employees even signed an open letter, where they asked for transparency around the project, and requested to create an ethical review process for it. The letter requested the company to include rank-and-file employees, and not just the senior executives.
According to NYT, the letter has been circulating on Google’s internal information systems. “Our industry has entered a new era of ethical responsibility: the choices we make matter on a global scale,” the letter said. “Yet most of us only learned about project Dragonfly through news reports in early August.”
This is not the first time that Google employees have expressed objections to a product. Earlier, Google employees protested against Project Maven, a drone initiative undertaken for the US government that would use AI as a weapon to target individuals. There were reports of some employees leaving the company over the project.
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The letter being shared internally shows how Google employees are increasingly voicing their concern around products developed by the company. The uproar around China initiative comes after the company famously retreated from world’s largest internet market over censorship and its motto of not being evil.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin even called out the government there as totalitarianism and akin to Soviet Union, where he grew up. His decision to leave was widely applauded by the employees but this time around, even Brin seems to be on board with China plans. It is not clear whether Google will launch a censored search product in China but for now, the company seems to be avoiding retribution from its employees.