Lost in the kerfuffle over Houston Congressman Al Green’s failed attempt to get an impeachment vote on President Donald Trump and the “send her back” chants is a rather interesting piece of news regarding Google’s censored search engine for China.
It’s deader than Jacob Marley.
Google’s Karan Bhatia told a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday the company was no longer working on the project using the phrase, “we have terminated that,” when asked by Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley. A Google spokesperson provided a little more context to Buzzfeed.
A company spokesperson pointed to its statement in a March 2019 story published in the Verge: “As we’ve said for many months, we have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project. Team members have moved to new projects.”
When asked whether “terminated” meant Google would not launch a censored search app in China in the future, the spokesperson said, “We have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project.”
It’s a bit of a hit towards Peter Thiel who suggested to Fox’s Tucker Carlson last week he believed the FBI and CIA should look into Google. Thiel’s wild hare is Google has somehow been infiltrated by the Chinese. One does have to wonder how many Langley assets might be accidentally turned up should the U.S. government start an investigation (this is a joke for those who do not understand dry humor).
One thing which should be pointed out is why Google decided to squash Project Dragonfly – even if it’s always possible the company may revive it like some sort of Frankenstein’s monster. The Intercept_, whistleblowers, and Google employees all complained about the alarming project. Amnesty International and a group called Google Employees Against Dragonfly released a letter last November decrying Dragonfly.
Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.
Our company’s decision comes as the Chinese government is openly expanding its surveillance powers and tools of population control. Many of these rely on advanced technologies, and combine online activity, personal records, and mass monitoring to track and profile citizens. Reports are already showing who bears the cost, including Uyghurs, women’s rights advocates, and students. Providing the Chinese government with ready access to user data, as required by Chinese law, would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses.
This backlash fails to be mentioned in any commentary by Carlson, Thiel, or other outlets enraged over Project Dragonfly. Thiel even suggested there was, “a broad base of Google employees that are ideologically super left wing sort of woke, and think that China is better than the U.S. Or that the U.S. is worse than China. It’s always — it’s more anti-American than anything.” One has to think the aforementioned letter telling Google to quit its censored search engine work shows there are plenty of employees who do not believe China is better than the U.S. – regardless of political affiliation.
There will be patrons in the gallery who cry foul over Google’s decision to rid itself of the Defense Department’s Project Maven – while Project Dragonfly was active in development or conception. It would be a mistake to consider the decisions one and the same – as Thiel did on Fox News. Project Maven is an artificial intelligence program involving the analysis of drone footage for the Defense Department. Drones used to kill suspected terrorists (not to mention innocent children and family members) and could be used to spy on American citizens without their knowledge (or a warrant). Google employees revolted and resigned in protest over Project Maven causing the tech giant to decide it wasn’t going to renew its contract with the U.S. Perfectly understandable.
Just like the revolt over Dragonfly.
It is completely possible Google executives are lying and the company is still working on Projects Dragonfly and Maven. This would not be surprising. Yet, it’s a mistake to say the federal government needs to do some sort of oversight or regulation or disbanding of big tech (not that politicians aren’t trying). It was watchdog media organizations like The Intercept_ who made sure people knew about Google’s work with the Department of Defense and China. The outcry from these outlets – and current and former employees – forced Google to scuttle the plans and either not renew a contract or cancel them outright. This should say something about the power of public pressure versus government intervention.
Mayhaps we should keep this in mind before running to the government to solve all our problems – regardless of political ideology.