- Tibetan human rights groups protested outside Google offices around the world on Friday to demand the company scrap its China search engine plans.
- The groups fear a censored search engine would be used to further propaganda and oppress dissent.
- They are approaching Googlers directly and asking for support to kill off the plans, known as Project Dragonfly.
- Reports emerged in December that Google had all-but killed Dragonfly, but the advocacy groups are unconvinced.
Tibetan human rights groups protested outside Google offices around the world on Friday to demand the search giant official scrap its plans to launch a censored search engine in China, known as Project Dragonfly.
Dragonfly was first revealed by a report published by the Intercept in August. The news prompted outrage both from human rights groups and Google employees, and CEO Sundar Pichai was grilled about the project by Congress in December.
Tibetan advocacy groups, including Free Tibet and the International Tibet Network, protested the project outside Google offices across Europe, the US, India, Australia, and the Americas.
They fear that a censored search engine would lead to the further oppression of Tibetans, as filtered searches would erase terms such as “Tibet” and “Tiananmen Square” in line with the official narrative of the Chinese Communist Party.
Their other concern Google could be used to monitor dissent in China.
“Any new internet search engine will have to capture the data of the people making the searches; take their name, their address, their phone number, and if necessary hand them over to the security services,” John Jones, Free Tibet’s advocacy and campaigns manager, told Business Insider.
“So there’s a very real possibility that anybody making a search that disagrees with the Chinese government could end up arrested and sent to long term imprisonment.”
The same concerns would apply to all Chinese citizens, including other oppressed minorities such as Uighur Muslims and Southern Mongolian people.
A few days after Pichai appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, media reports claimed that Google had “effectively ended” Project Dragonfly. However, advocacy groups including Free Tibet are not convinced that the project has been laid to rest.
The advocacy groups said Pichai’s answers to Congress were too evasive to be sure the project is truly dead. “Every time Dragonfly was brought up it was said that the company was not currently developing ‘at present’ or ‘right now’… so what that led us to believe is that they have temporarily put the talks on hold but they haven’t cancelled the project,” said the UK Director of the Tibet Society, Gloria Montgomery.
The protestors’ main aim is to engage with Google employees leaving the offices, rather than passing members of the public, to try and stir up some grassroots action amongst Googlers. Google employees have been instrumental in killing what they view as unethical projects in the past, such its military drone project Maven.
When contacted by Business Insider about the protest, a Google spokesman said: “We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”
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