Internet censorship is a major concern, but when an American company
Human Rights advocates and groups worldwide are blasting Google’s rumored plan to release a censored search engine for Chinese citizens. This censored site, codenamed Dragonfly, comes at the request of the Chinese government.
Internet access, privacy, and security fall under basic human rights. Google is now facing intense criticism from 60 advocate groups worldwide for undermining those rights. Groups from China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, France, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Romania, Syria, Tibet, and Vietnam have all stepped forward in response to Google’s Dragonfly.
In fact, many of Google’s own employees have begged the tech giant to shelve its plan to help censor the Chinese internet.
Dragonfly would link users searches to their cellphone numbers. It would also save the raw data from any searches that involve a Chinese company, granting China’s government access to that data.
“New details leaked to the media strongly suggest that if Google launches such a product it would facilitate repressive state censorship, surveillance, and other violations affecting nearly a billion people in China,” stated one of the human rights groups in an open letter to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai.
The mass concern is warranted. I’ve witnessed first hand what authoritarian governments can do when they’re granted access to private citizen data: harassment, detainment, blacklists, and, in some cases, death by torture.
My knowledge of the situation arose when Syria’s intelligence forces were able to pinpoint peaceful protestors using their internet searches and cell phone pings during the 2011 uprising. They targeted people for voicing their opinions—eliminating freedom of speech. The news about Google potentially seeking to help China censor its internet and spy on its citizens is, therefore, extremely troubling.
It’s no secret that human rights violations are committed in China. But it’s unethical for American companies like Google to empower regimes with tools like Dragonfly.
Whether Google will go forward with its plans amidst the backlash is unknown. Google’s Pichai testified in Congress this week, and when asked if he would rule out “launching a tool for surveillance and censorship in China,” he declined to answer with a straight yes or no.
UPDATE: Due to employee uproar, it is said that Google’s Dragonfly project has now “effectively ended”.
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