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By Sarah Naidu
The Chinese government has long been known for its extensive Internet censorship, blocking information regarding political opponents, foreign outlets, human rights, freedom of speech, and news that the Communist Party does not approve of. The government had even restricted access to Google through the country’s Great Firewall; however, that will soon change.
Since the spring of 2017, Google has been developing a censored Android app version of its search engine — dubbed Dragonfly — that will remove results and websites banned by the Chinese government. The search engine will filter and edit search results based on what is accessible through the Great Firewall and will not display any results if the search includes blacklisted information or keywords, such as anticommunism and human rights.
The app would force users to log in before performing searches, tracking both location and search history. The searches would be linked to the user’s personal phone number and the searches, as well, as the user’s movements and other private data would be stored and monitored in a database of a Chinese company — the unnamed partner of Google in this project. Many fear that this app will further enable the Chinese government to spy on its citizens, endangering their privacy.
Google’s motto at one point had been “Don’t be evil;” however, its actions regarding the Dragonfly project and it compliance with a government censoring free speech contradicts that very principle. In fact, that blatant contradiction fueled much of the public criticism and ethical backlash regarding the project, attracting attention from human rights groups, Google’s own employees, and the Vice President.
1,400 Google employees have signed a letter addressed to the company executives, demanding more information regarding the project while also expressing ethical concerns about Google.
At the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., a think tank and research center, Vice President Mike Pence criticized Google and stated that Dragonfly “will strengthen the Communist Party’s censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers” and accused Google of “abetting Beijing’s oppression.”
For Google, the Dragonfly project will be especially profitable. It’s no secret that China has one of the largest numbers of Internet users, so for Google to tap into that will be beneficial monetarily — but at what ethical and moral cost? Will Google work with a government with a history of oppression and abusing free speech? Will it allow China to strengthen its censorship? And most of all, will Google sacrifice its ethics in the name of order for corporate gains?