When information about Google’s Project Dragonfly leaked online, there was a huge uproar among Internet rights activists, since Dragonfly would have complied with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censorship policies and made life harder for the country’s citizens. A new wave of protests has hit Google as the latest reports suggest that the company might still be working on the project.
During the congressional hearing last December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated that the company had no plans for launching a CCP-compliant search engine in China “right now.” Media took his statement to mean that the project was shut down. Various reports based on talks with Google insiders also seemed to support this conclusion. But nothing was officially confirmed by the company. And this is what has triggered the current protests.
Internet rights activists and human rights groups representing Chinese, Uyghur, and Tibetan people reportedly organized demonstrations in front of Google offices across the world. They demand that Google publicly confirm that Dragonfly has been shut down.
“One of the huge concerns about Dragonfly is the fact that Google will be agreeing to share the data of individuals who make searches such as for the “Dalai Lama” or “human rights” or “democracy” with the Chinese authorities… This puts people in terrible jeopardy and danger of arrest, disappearance, and torture — a whole wealth of human rights concerns — for simply carrying out a search for information,” Mandie McKeown, from the London-based International Tibet Network, said to NBC News.
Employees at Google are also concerned about Dragonfly. In December, facing huge resistance from employees, Google promised that a new group comprising ethical experts, legal experts, human rights activists, etc. would be formed that would review all future Google projects. However, the company stated that the “most complex and difficult issues” would be left in the hands of a few senior executives. As such, employees will likely be sidelined when it comes to such controversial projects.
“It’s superficial… We still need more accountability, more transparency, and a seat at the table when it comes to the big decisions — otherwise, there will be nothing to stop projects like Dragonfly from being railroaded through again in the future,” a Google engineer said to The Intercept.
Impact of Dragonfly
If Dragonfly were to become a reality and get implemented across China, it would mark a shift in the way the world works. For several decades, it was believed that China would eventually turn into a democracy once it entered a phase of prosperity. This was repeated so often that the opposite was considered impossible.
However, instead of becoming more democratic, the CCP is strengthening their control over the country, tightening censorship rules. By making Google bow down to its demands, the communists would essentially be sending a dangerous message that authoritarianism and censorship works. This would be a very dangerous turn of events.
“As controller of the world’s largest censored digital information space, China sets the example for online censorship for all other illiberal regimes. The fact that Google seems willing to enter the market on its terms could send a worrying message to other governments worldwide. And as one of the world’s biggest tech companies and tech monopolies in the world, Google’s compromise also sets a dangerous precedent for other tech companies,” according to Columbia Journalism Review.
Google has yet to make an official statement about whether Dragonfly is still active or has been shut down for good.