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5 Questions for Google About Controversial China Search Project

Congress Should Press Sundar Pichai Over Project Dragonfly

A Chinese national flag sways in front of Google China's headquarters in Beijing on January 14, 2010. © 2010 Reuters

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be in the hot seat tomorrow when he testifies before the United States House Judiciary Committee following an outcry over its plans to re-enter the Chinese search market.

A coalition of more than 70 human rights groups and advocates have raised serious questions about Google’s planned expansion in China in a letter released today.

Media reports said the Chinese search app, codenamed Project Dragonfly, would censor terms like “human rights” and “student protest”; track and store users’ location and search histories; and provide “unilateral access” to such data to a Chinese joint venture partner. This app would operate in a country with no meaningful privacy protections or independent judiciary, where threats to national security often include peaceful dissent, and where technology companies are required by law to facilitate surveillance.

So far, Google has described Project Dragonfly as “exploratory,” and declined to meaningfully respond to questions from rights groups, Congress, and the firm’s own employees.

Congress shouldn’t let this go. Here is what we hope the committee will ask to press Pichai on Google’s approach to China:

  1. Google publicly withdrew from the Chinese search market in 2010 because of human rights concerns, yet conditions have only worsened. What has changed since 2010 that leads Google to believe that re-entering China would lead to better outcomes?
  1. Google has committed to human rights principles to protect freedom of expression and privacy as a member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI). Google’s own Code of Conduct states it “is committed to advancing privacy and freedom of expression for our users around the world.” How will Google ensure Project Dragonfly or any other business in China is consistent with these principles?
  1. Google’s Artificial Intelligence Principles state it “will not design or deploy AI” for “technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of … human rights.” Even if Dragonfly was just “exploratory,” how does designing an app purpose-built for censorship and government surveillance in China comply with these commitments?
  1. Google offers two mobile apps in China – Google Translate and Files by Google – which potentially have access to incredibly sensitive user data. What information does Google collect about Chinese users, where is it stored, and how would they respond to a Chinese request for personal data?
  1. Google employees have been at the forefront of raising the alarm, privately and publicly, about Google’s approach to human rights. Will Pichai commit to protecting those employees from retaliation?

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