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Google

Rights groups urge no censored Google search app for China

More than a dozen human rights organisations respond to reports Google is planning to return to the giant Asian market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 4:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 4:51pm

More than a dozen human rights groups have sent a letter to Google urging the company not to proceed with plans to provide a censored version of its internet search service in China.

The joint letter, dated Tuesday, describes Google’s search engine app for China, currently under development and code-named “Dragonfly” as representing an “alarming capitulation” on human rights.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders are among the signatories to the letter, which calls on CEO Sundar Pichai to explain what Google is doing to safeguard mainland users from Chinese government censorship and surveillance.

“The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. By accommodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China,” the letter said.

Google exited the Chinese search market in 2010 .

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The letter points out that China’s controls over the internet have only strengthened since then amid an overall crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression.

“It is difficult to see how Google would currently be able to relaunch a search engine service in China in a way that would be compatible with the company’s human rights responsibilities under international standards, or its own commitments,” the letter said.

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Earlier this month more than a thousand Google employees signed their own letter protesting against the company’s secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship. The letter called on executives to review ethics and transparency at the company.

According to online news site The Intercept, Google’s custom Android app will automatically filter out sites blocked by China’s so-called Great Firewall.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in the Soviet Union in 1973 and lived there until age six when his family fled. He has said his experience with a repressive regime shaped his and the company’s views.

Pichai, who became CEO in 2015 when Google became part of parent company Alphabet, has said he wanted Google to be in China serving Chinese users.

In December, Google announced it was opening an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing and in June Google invested US$550 million in JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce platform that is second only to Alibaba in the country.

Alibaba owns South China Morning Post.

Google and JD.com announced they would collaborate on retail solutions around the world without mentioning China, where Google services, including Gmail and YouTube, are blocked.

It was unclear whether Google had taken receipt of the letter but, in statement earlier this month, the company said: “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com.

“But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans,” the statement said.