Google workers nix China search engine

Sundar Pichai chief executive officer of Google Inc

Google employees have signed a letter protesting the company's secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with censorship.

But the search engine giant's growing capabilities has it feeling lucky too.

Dragonfly is reported to be an effort to provide search and personalized mobile news to China, in compliance with Chinese government censorship and surveillance requirements.

After the severe criticism, Google ended the Artificial Intelligence contract with the Pentagon.

Google previously offered a search engine for China, but the company withdrew it over concerns on both censorship and cyber attacks.

In the letter, which is an internal petition, the employees asked for more transparency and oversight of Project Dragonfly, the project's internal title. Last year, Google opened a major artificial intelligence research center in China.

The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, "makes clear" that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate "are not enough". It is possible that they may have come up with better rules with the Chinese government on the new search engine.

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At that time, Google Engineering Vice President Ben Gomes announced changes to the company's search algorithm aimed at promoting "authoritative" news sources over "alternative viewpoints". According to its most recent quarterly report, Alphabet (Google's parent company), employed 89,058 people as of June 30.

When you type a query into Google's search engine, there's the Search button, which leads you to a snippet of information and various link suggestions, as well as a more playful option ("I'm feeling lucky"), a click that will send the user directly to a webpage of Google's choosing. The employees also spoke about the project directly to Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, during a weekly staff meeting.

The revelation has stunned many people, including the majority of Google's 88,000 employees.

China is one-fifth of the world's population.

Pichai told employees: "We'll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here" on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. "I think if we were to do our mission well, I think we have to think seriously about how we do more in China", he added, according to Bloomberg.

At the same time, he sought to downplay the revelation, saying the company was not "close" to rolling out the product and that Google's expansion in China was "slow-going and complicated". Earlier this year, employees protested against Google's involvement in an AI project to improve weapons for the Pentagon.

After the letter, Google chose to withdraw from that project. It goes against its principals as it would stop Chinese citizens from gaining access to rightful information.

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