Sundar Pichai, Google CEO: Company 'not close' to launching Chinese search engine

Sundar Pichai, Google CEO: Company 'not close' to launching Chinese search engine

Employee anger flared with a report this month in The Intercept that Google is secretly building a search engine that will filter content banned in China and thus meet Beijing's tough censorship rules.

At least 1,400 Google employees signed a letter to company leaders demanding more transparency over a project the tech giant is working on that could be accepted by the Chinese government.

The determination of Google to proceed with its China project indicates that the censorship methods Google is developing nominally for China are seen as having utility elsewhere, including within the United States itself. "Our industry has entered a new era of ethical responsibility: the choices we make matter on a global scale", the letter states, specifically referencing the Chinese search engine project, codenamed Dragonfly.

With the secret project, Google employees are reportedly anxious that they might unknowingly be working on technology that could help China hide information from its people.

The new project is said to be codenamed "Dragonfly".

"We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we're building", the letter said.

Google famously ended its search operations in China in 2010, protesting the country's strict demands that users be prevented from accessing critical websites and topics.

But the search engine giant's growing capabilities has it feeling lucky too. The employees also spoke about the project directly to Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, during a weekly staff meeting.

Earlier this year, Google employees staged a similar protest when it was announced the company was working with the US Department of Defense to develop artificial intelligence capabilities for drones.

China is one-fifth of the world's population. According to its most recent quarterly report, Alphabet (Google's parent company), employed 89,058 people as of June 30. "I think if we were to do our mission well, I think we have to think seriously about how we do more in China", he added, according to Bloomberg.

Pichai pledged to be more transparent with employees as plans are closer to being finalized, the news outlet reported.

Google explains in an official announcement that, for instance, a query such as "quartz vs granite" in a quest to pick a kitchen countertop most often leads to an article that summarizes definitions of those materials.

It is not the first time Google employees have spoken out against the company's decisions.

According to media reports, Google will not seek another contract when the current Project Maven contract expires in 2019.