Alphabet chairman admits Google will have to break its core values if it wants to launch a search engine in China

Alphabet Chairman John Hennessy. Bloomberg
  • The chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has said that anybody who does business in China “compromises some of their core values.”
  • Google is working on plans to return to the Chinese market with a censored search engine after an eight-year hiatus.
  • John Hennessy said Google needs to balance ethical compromises with the possibility that a better search engine could improve quality of life for Chinese citizens.

The chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has admitted that by returning to the Chinese market, Google will have to compromise its “core values.”

In an interview with Bloomberg, Alphabet Chairman John Hennessy discussed the news that Google is exploring the possibility of launching a censored search engine in China.

Google’s plans to return to China after an eight-year hiatus – codenamed “Project Dragonfly” – were revealed by The Intercept in August. It has been heavily criticised on ethical grounds from both within the company and externally by human rights groups.

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“Anybody who does business in China compromises some of their core values,” Hennessy said.

“The question that comes to my mind and that I struggle with is: Are we better off giving Chinese citizens a decent search engine, a capable search engine, even if it is restricted and censored in some cases, than a search engine that’s not very good? And does that improve the quality of their lives?”

He appears to be on the same page as Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “There are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what’s available,” Pichai said at a WIRED event in October. “You’re always balancing a set of values.”

The Intercept also reported that a Google memo showed plans to extensively track users of the prototype search tool, and would share the amassed data with a Chinese partner.

Hennessy addressed the danger of state surveillance. “If you store data in the country it can be gotten at by the Chinese authorities… I think you should worry about it, at a minimum you’d better make sure your users understand that,” he said.