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Rights groups and tech workers unite to swat down Google’s Dragonfly

Rights groups and tech workers unite to swat down Google’s Dragonfly
[Photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash]

Shortly after The Intercept broke the story about Google’s Dragonfly project–a censored, snooping search engine in development for the China market–engineer Jack Poulson decided it was time to leave the company. The senior researcher and AI expert submitted an epic resignation letter in late August, just 19 days after The Intercept article, and he began speaking very publicly as more news about Dragonfly broke. He also submitted a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee ahead of hearings where Google’s chief privacy officer Keith Enright testified.

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Poulson contacted me today with word of the next shoe to drop. As Google CEO Sundar Pichai gets ready to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on December 11 to answer questions about how Google handles data, a six-group coalition has formed to oppose Dragonfly.

They’ll make their case on December 10–the 70th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights–in a pair of online press conferences, one at 10 a.m. GMT, and another at 11 a.m. EST. Poulson will speak at both, along with Tibetan, Uyghur, and Chinese rights activists, in an event that will formally launch what they call a “global campaign” against Dragonfly.

Article 12 of the UN Declaration reads:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

The organizers are planning a multi-pronged campaign including an online petition (which is already live), protests, and encouraging advocacy from elected officials. A website for the campaign, StopGoogleCensorship.online, recently launched.

The participating groups are Free Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet, SumOfUs, Tibet Action Institute, Tibet Society UK, and the International Tibet Network.

From a press release announcing the new campaign against Dragonfly.

Google, which left China in 2010 over a hacking campaign by the Chinese government, has faced an extraordinary volume of criticism over its efforts to return to the mainland, where its services are largely blocked.

Anger heated up again in late October when The Intercept‘s Ryan Gallagher, who first broke the Dragonfly story, reported on the lengths to which executives had gone to curtail internal debate, to the extent of shutting out Google’s security and privacy teams. Google claims the article is incorrect and that Dragonfly is not nearly as far along as Gallagher reports.

Coming shortly after the Google Walkout on November 1, the recent Intercept article seems to have been a kind of last straw for some Googlers. While about 500 Google employees have reportedly joined an internal letter in support of Dragonfly, 731 others (including about 600 engineers) have put their name to a public letter denouncing the project. And one, engineer Liz Fong-Jones, raised $250,000 for a strike fund to support Googlers who may organize to cease work in protest.

This article has been updated with details of the campaign.

Contact me confidentially at seanjcaptain@gmail.com or Twitter DM @seancaptain. We can also set up a Signal call.

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