Sundar Pichai, Google CEO: Company ‘not close’ to launching Chinese search engine: Report

August 17, 2018

Google is not on the verge of launching a censored search engine for China, but is open to providing services again within the country, the company’s chief executive reportedly told employees Thursday evening.

“If we were to do our mission well, we are to think seriously about how to do more in China,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at a company meeting, The New York Times reported, citing leaked audio of his remarks. “That said, we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

The Times first reported earlier Thursday that hundreds of Google employees had signed a letter raising concerns with Mr. Pichai after they learned through media coverage that the company planned to launch a new project, code-named “Dragonfly,” offering search engine services to China in compliance with the government’s stringent censorship and surveillance requirements.

“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects and our employment,” the staffers said in the letter. “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

Addressing the concerns Thursday evening, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said employees “should feel broadly proud of their work, not feel that it compromises their principles,” according to a Times reporter who relayed his and Mr. Pichai’s comments through her Twitter account during the meeting.

Mr. Pichai and Mr. Brin ultimately stopped answering questions about Dragonfly after learning that their comments were being shared on social media, the reporter tweeted.

China banned Google in 2010 after the company refused to comply with the nation’s strict internet laws the worst in the world’s according to Freedom House, an American nonprofit group that monitors freedom of expression.

The Intercept reported earlier this month that Google recently began work on Dragonfly after Mr. Pichai met with a top Chinese government official in late 2017, prompting complaints from employees and lawmakers alike.

“If true, this reported plan is deeply troubling and risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote Mr. Pichai earlier this month.

Google did not return messages seeking comment.

The tech titan faced similar employee uproar earlier this year over “Project Maven,” a pilot program that planned to use Google technology to assist Department of Defense surveillance operations.

“Building this technology to assist the U.S. Government in military surveillance and potentially lethal outcomes is not acceptable,” thousands of employees wrote in a previous letter opposing the project. Google has since said that its partnership with the Pentagon will end in March 2019.

Update hourly