When Google pulled its search engine out of China in 2010, it gave up the the opportunity to grow in a huge market. The decision to leave was in response to a Chinese cyber attack that targeted U.S. tech companies and Chinese human-rights activists. In light of these incidents, Google was no longer willing to censor searches and become an accomplice to repression.
Flash forward to 2015: Google went through a corporate re-structuring to form Alphabet Inc. and new leaders stepped in to helm the company. Along with these changes came increasing interest to regain access to China’s enormous population of internet users. Last year, Google unveiled plans to open an AI facility in Beijing. In June, Google announced a $550 million investment in JD.com. The Silicon Valley giant is also said to be in talks with Tencent to offer its cloud services. The biggest news came on August 1 when The Intercept reported that Google plans to launch a censored search engine in China, code-named Dragonfly. The final version could be launched as soon as January 2019 and it would mark Google’s formal return to the market that it left nearly a decade ago.
One question now is, how do the workers feel about this? Google employees made news this year when they protested Project Maven, a Pentagon project requiring Google to help improve drone strikes. With increasing pressure and backlash from its employees, Google eventually pulled out of the government contract. If so many employees voiced objection to a project that raised ethical concerns, would they also object to a controversial collaboration with China?
According to the New York Times, hundreds of Google employees have started signing a letter that demands more transparency to understand the consequences of their work. Here at Blind, we reached out to our pool of tech workers to understand how they feel about the speculation around Google, China, and Dragonfly. We asked the following question to the thousands of Google employees and tech workers on our app: “Should Google provide a censored search engine in China?” Participants were asked to answer either yes or no.
Between August 7 through August 15, we received a total of 7,369 replies and the final results came up as follows: 35.73 percent think Google should provide a censored search engine and 64.27 percent disagree. Among just Google employees, 65.25 percent are in favor of a censored search engine whereas 34.75 percent are against it.
The divide between Google employees and our overall tech workers is substantial on this matter. Considering the outcome of Project Maven, it’s surprising to see that a high percentage of Google employees support a censored search engine. However, the discussions happening on Blind give us some insight into why some employees are in favor of cooperating with China and why some tech workers are not.
If Dragonfly does launch, Google will set an influential precedent for U.S. tech companies. Companies that have been wanting to enter the lucrative market may be less politically reluctant to do so if Google takes the first step. For Google, operating in China will allow for immense growth. For the Chinese government, it would mean a political win. But what about the Chinese people? Will they just end up with a second Baidu or will having access to a censored Google be one step towards more freedom? Only time will tell if the most important party in this story will be able to receive the most gain.