Google, Ethics, and the Chinese Market
For an Internet business, China is indeed a very juicy country. It has approximately 800 million active Internet users. With this number, it is safe to say that even if a business flunked in all countries except this Asian giant, they would still be afloat and practically fluid!
In 2006, Google launched a Chinese version of Google in China. However, in 2010, or after just roughly four years of operations, the company withdrew. Google co-founder Sergey Brin cited the growing censorship demands from Beijing as the main reason behind the Internet behemoth’s withdrawal. He specifically said that the company is all about “opposing censorship and speaking out for the freedom of political dissent”. These words resonated well with the media and the public, and Google enjoyed the salutations from many.
Still, it is very important to note that while the company stopped operating this search engine in China, they did not totally abandon the Chinese market. They still have investments and stakes here and there, and the company even maintains small satellite offices in key cities.
In mid 2018, there were even talks that Google Cloud services are going to penetrate China. This makes AWS podcast series and a whole lot of resources regarding the cloud platform relevant in the Asian country again.
Different views on keeping the Chinese market
Sergey Brin might have had it his way in 2010, but not everyone within the company was in the same boat. Eric Schmidt, who was the CEO of Google at the time of the Chinese exit, revealed in an interview that he did not agree with Brin’s view at the time. He said that Google should remain in China, considering that it is a big market, after all.
To be fair, Brin himself held this view. However, the censorship demands from the Chinese government became too great that he was being pushed to his limits.
When Schmidt stepped down from his post in 2015, the company was taken over by Sundar Pichai. The new CEO holds the same position as Schmidt, and under his watch an important project was developed. Google spent a lot in the development of a specially designed search engine for China, which is internally dubbed as Dragonfly. This product was poised to relent to Chinese censorship in exchange for a chance at capturing a piece of the Chinese pie.
Dragonfly and the Internal Turmoil in Created
The Dragonfly project was definitely a top secret not only to the outside world but also, as it would later appear, to the very people who were working on it.
When the project was made known to the public in August 2018, Google employees were outraged, and they demanded that they be filled in regarding the outcomes of the projects and tasks that they are handling.
For the employees, working on Dragonfly raises ethical and moral issues, and many of them didn’t want themselves or the outputs that they produce to have anything to do with the project.
The exposure of the project led to the announcement that the development of Dragonfly has halted and all the people working on it have been reassigned to other projects.
The scandal also led to the departure of a number of key workers from Google. Software engineer Colin McMillen, for example, left nine years of work behind because of the project and a few other ethically questionable acts of Google management.
Despite internal pressure from the employees, Google execs still chose to remain mum over the matter.
Censored search engine for the Chinese: What does the future hold?
Just in June 2019, a handful of important Google shareholders wrote a resolution that would mandate the company to stop any plans of censorship. However, the resolution failed to pass. This means that Dragonfly and other projects of the same nature, though still in limbo, may still be pursued in the future. In fact, McMillen reported that there are “strong indications that something is still happening” within Google.
“I think they are putting it on the back burner and are going to try it again in a year or two with a different code name or approach,” he noted.