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Google Employees Uncover Ongoing Work on Censored China Search (theintercept.com)
557 points by jbegley 45 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 286 comments



Google execs know that as long as they have the best benefits in the industry and keep their workers cushy they'll also have complete control over them. This is because when you're at the top of the food chain, very few people are actually willing to put their money where their mouth is and take meaningful action. It's deliciously hypocritical to see Google workers here (and HN posters in general) lament Facebook workers for being morally corrupt when they continue to enable and find excuses for Google and are guilty of the same thing.

Google will move forward with expansion into China. Anyone who doesn't believe that is frankly naive. The further censorship of the Chinese populace will be 100% in the name of greed and profit. But why should Googlers care? After all, those free meals, pools, video game rooms, and gyms aren't going to pay for themselves.


Pushback from employees, human rights groups, and congress has already significantly set back the project. The fight has to continue, but I don't understand your defeatism.

Source: I publicly resigned from Google over dragonfly and dedicated months of my life and income to fighting it.


I truly admire you for taking a stance and fighting for what you believe in. Figuring out what you can and can't stand for morally is a difficult task. I hope others can feel inspired by you to examine whether they can, in good conscience, continue to support Google.

I am not advocating defeatism. I am simply trying to be realistic. It is a fact that within the tech community Google has always been given more leniency than their competitors, even when they're all guilty of the same crimes. The tech community assumes the best when it comes to Google and gives them the benefit of the doubt, even when they don't deserve it. Google's executives recognize this and have exploited this goodwill to further maximize their profit margins again and again, knowing that they can always quell any community outrage with empty promises to change and carefully crafted PR statements. Before it was Oracle, but now it's Facebook, Amazon, and Uber--As long as these companies exist, Google just needs to be the "lesser evil" and they'll always be excused.

Real, meaningful change would require a paradigm shift in the tech community that simply isn't going to happen while they're still overwhelmingly viewed as the most desirable company to work at and people still believe the "don't be evil" nonsense. The Google Kool-Aid is real and the tech community is drowning in it.


> It is a fact that within the tech community Google has always been given more leniency than their competitors, even when they're all guilty of the same crimes.

I would posit that Google is given slightly more leniency because their infractions always tend to be slightly less bad.

• Google tracks everything, but is ever-so-slightly more transparent than Facebook or Amazon, and the opt out process is ever-so-slightly easier.

• Google had their own version of the Facebook's opt-in but highly-invasive research app, but only for people who were over 18 (at least as of the past couple years).

• Android is kind of open source depending on your definition.

• Google left China the first time, whereas Microsoft, Apple, and others continue to operate in the country in compliance with Chinese censorship laws.

I am (very obviously, I hope) not saying Google is an angelic savior, nor that we should accept their actions. However, I do think people's slightly-better opinion of Google is more-or-less commensurate with the company's slightly-better track record.


This is relevant. But Google is also held to a higher standard. Not necessarily by the user base at large, but by the (tech) media. When I saw articles describing Amazons and Microsofts continued support for military and government contracts (Hololens, Pentagon Cloud contract, Jeff Bezos tweets, GovCloud) there is some push back in the comments. But many commenters were actually praising their steadfast commitment of "not giving in to public pressure", and "if they don't do it, China will win". In that way, they kind of got away with it and Google is now at competitive disadvantage. It's weird, because I don't believe MS or AMZN's personell is any more fine with it than Google's is.

Anyway. I can't say I'm surprised by this. I'm just hoping we manage to overcome nationalistic behavior in time. Global problems (AI regulation, climate change, human augmentation) will require global cooperation on a level that will allow no self-serving behavior. And unfortunately evolution has ill prepared us for this.


I bet this changes fast when NEOM opens up with its shiny new Alphabet HQ.


Personally, one of the reasons I have a little more hope for Google is the ownership structure. Larry and Sergei made some very controversial decisions when they went public with Google, in spite of severe pushback from investors, which tallies with my impression (right or wrong), that they are not only pretty reasaonable guys but also able to resist outside pressure, even to their own financial detriment. An example is the Dutch auction IPO, which democratized the offering and in turn put them on the shitlist with the financial industry at the time. The share structure guarantees that Larry and Sergei remain in 100% control of the company and can pretty much do whatever they like. They made that clear in the prospectus, as well as the fact that they had no plan to ever pay dividends, and in turn (paraphrased) see no reason for anybody to buy shares.

I will grant that in recent years I do not see a strong involvement from Larry and Sergei, in the spirit that I expect from them, and Google has been acting mostly like you would expect from any other corporation. And I definitely do not extend my goodwill to Eric Schmidt. But still, Google has vestiges of the srappy startup, moreso than any of the comparable tech behemoths, in my mind.


> Google had their own version of the Facebook's opt-in but highly-invasive research app, but only for people who were over 18 (at least as of the past couple years).

This equivocation is a little ridiculous imho. Google's app was literally a tracking app by its very claim, there was no sense of deception or bait-and-switch.


Same with Facebook's app. I legitimately think the outrage over this was overblown (and I said as much at the time [1]), but I can see the other side of it.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19031055


Onavo didn't disclose that and then FB Research went targeting teenagers.

Doesn't that feel like it deserved more backlash?


We agree! That's why I brought up the comparison in my original post.


Not at their first try with onavo.


That might be the case, but I think for me, the prime thing that sets Google apart from, say, Facebook, is that I don't (or not as much) feel pressured into using their stuff because all my friends do so, but because it's genuinely good.

Which is less annoying for me, but not really the moral high ground for other issues. Still, it influences my view of them.


> the opt out process is ever-so-slightly easier.

Oh? How do I opt out of Google's spying? I already don't have an account or use their services, but they still collect data on me from a wide variety of sources, both online and not. As far as I can tell, there is literally no way to get them to stop it.

I don't think Google has much of a high road here.


While your opinion is popular, especially among privacy enthusiasts, it's also inconsistent with reality.

Google isn't spying on you. They don't give a damn who you are. This may come as a blow, but your browsing history is not valuable in and if itself.

Your identity and behavior is only valuable to Google for the purpose of making you happy with their services. It's only desirable to Google to the extent that it represents an ongoing voluntary relationship between you and them. Otherwise its value goes negative.

Your data, your history, your preferences, if you don't want to use that information to make their site and services more useful, then they have no reason to keep it. It's a liability instead of an asset. It gets purged pretty quickly. This is true all across the company. No information is retained without your ongoing consent. I am dead certain this happens.

This obviously doesn't apply to aggregate/anonymous data. They don't decrement their count of people living in San Francisco by 1 just because you don't want people to know you exist. That's not how opting out works. It's not how population statistics work.


> [Your data is] only desirable to Google to the extent that it represents an ongoing voluntary relationship between you and them. Otherwise its value goes negative.

Ad targeting?


Source?


> Oh? How do I opt out of Google's spying?

I was primarily thinking of google.com/dashboard.

It's far from perfect—for instance, it's only for people who have Google accounts—but when I go to Youtube, for instance, my video recommendation list is 100% generic, which is how I want it (no filter bubbles!).

I would really like to do the same on Amazon.com, but it's completely impossible. There's no dashboard equivalent.


I completely agree that a paradigm shift is required. Thankfully, it seems we are in the middle of one. There is sustained momentum, from tech workers, the press, congress, human rights orgs, etc. to work together to hold them accountable.

And we are already making huge impacts.

And, if press over the last six months (especially the NYT Rubin expose) is any indicator, Google's management is no longer viewed as benevolent.


I would contend that the naïveté that would allow someone to have ever seen Google's management as benevolent is that same naïveté that will ultimately allow these practices to continue with impunity.


It's not big enough or fast to stop Google in China.


Not with that attitude, no.


Naivety coupled with a positive attitude isn't going to change it either.

I'm saying if this is important to you, don't be complicit... because the current response to this isn't enough to stop it.


You are pointing out important things but also Being unrealistic is how change happens.


I wholeheartedly salute you. The individual willing to stand up for a principle at great personal expense is the kind of hero the world needs more of. While I admire your resolve, I can't help but feel pessimistic about the cause. My view formed by my own personal experience is that the average consumer is not even remotely interested in understanding the ethical implications of Google's various business practices, let alone taking an informed moral stance and adjusting their behaviour on its basis. Dragonfly is only the tip of the iceberg for me when it comes to Google's unethical behaviour, I've made a concerted effort to avoid allowing Google to earn money from my use of their products. Unfortunately, the masses are miles away from even being concerned about their own personal privacy, let alone being concerned over foreign tyranny. They'll continue using Google services, and google will be able to do largely as it wishes. Also, I'm stumped trying to think of an example of where a nation-state rectified their unethical behaviour on a moral basis alone. Picketing the Chinese government will not change things, nor will Google refusing to do business with them, unfortunately. We should still boycott companies who support such tyranny however.


There are many different fronts to wage this fight on; changing consumer behavior is only one of them. Getting the project halted is important in its own right for the reason that it helps prevent the normalization of American tech companies actively aiding political oppression under the guise of abiding by 'local laws and regulations'.

As I stated in a few comments down below: if we let American tech companies build custom tools to enable authoritarian governments in their political oppression, how could we possibly think they would stand up to protect something actually controversial, like a protester or a labor organizer?


I totally understand and support your stance. Total respect for resigning for idealistic reasons.

But I have another point of view on the subject after having worked in SE Asia. I'm not trying to contradict anyone here, just give my (hopefully informed) opinion.

There are no democracies in SE Asia. There are a couple of countries that pretend to democracy (Cambodia and the Philippines spring to mind), but even these are highly controlled, and elections are not "free" as we would understand the term. For most of SE Asia, it's worse than that, and any elections are a complete sham. E.g. Thailand, where a king and a military junta rule the country, and the elections are insignificant in terms of actual power.

This situation is portrayed in western media as being a result of bad governments and oppressive regimes. But having lived there and talked to locals, it's more complicated than that.

SE Asian culture (actually a whole set of diverse cultures, but they have this in common) have a large "power distance". This means they tolerate large amounts of differences in power levels between individuals. In practice, this means that they don't expect to be equal. There is a strong concept of karma between lives (you're born into the life you deserve based on your karma from previous lives) and a strong concept of community, respecting your elders, looking after your family, working together for the good of the whole group. Individuality is frowned on, truth is less important than respect (this one was hard to grok- it's better to tell your boss what they want to hear than to tell them the truth. It sounds like cowardice to us, but it's actually all about respect and social harmony).

It's very hard for westerners to understand this culture. We come from a different set of base assumptions about life and how it should be lived. And SE Asians don't understand our assumptions either.

This cultural gap plays into the efforts to make Asian democracies. It doesn't work like that there. Most of the efforts I've seen make no effort at all to understand the culture they're trying to change, and make a blanket assumption that western democracy is a one-size-fits-all best-practice method for governing a country. I thought that, too, until I actually went there and experienced it. Now I understand why democracy has never worked in SE Asia, and I understand why they like "strong" rulers, and I understand why free speech isn't important to them.

I don't want to paint efforts to liberate SE Asia in such a bad light, but there is, still, a strong element of cultural imperialism here. The opinion the "West is Best" and that our democratic values are superior to the undemocratic values held by SE Asians is strong. There are organisations out there promoting western values who have no clue about the SE Asian values (and the ancient, strong cultures behind them) that they're trying to change. It's not coming from a place of understanding, but from assumed superiority.

I have no idea if Google has spent the time to understand the Chinese market, but creating a search engine that doesn't return "sensitive" topics would be consistent with that kind of research. I get that it contradicts western ideals of free speech, but those values are less important there. Social harmony is more important. It sounds weird and wrong to us, and it would be if it was being implemented in a western country. But this ain't Kansas, and the rules are different.


It is not that westerners come from a different set of base assumptions, it is that western society has moved past those base assumptions. Western monarchies were divine rights, people died fighting against those viewpoints.

It is not an assumed superiority. We learn the lesson through our history, whether this lesson is right or wrong. We too had traditions of divine right, holistic medicine, censorship and similar, but those were replaced by current "Western" values. Censorship is seen as an unnecessary, oppressive weakness that we do not want to contribute to.


Good point. We changed as a society, and what we have now would not have suited us a few hundred years ago, and what we had then would not suit us now. If we had tried to introduce democracy into medieval Europe, it would have failed just as badly.

But by forcing our values onto SE Asian cultures, we are assuming that they cannot come up with "better" answers, and assuming that our way is the only way. Maybe there's an alternative to western society that they'll discover and share with us if we just let them do it their way? Maybe our western society is just not a good fit for their culture?

Of course, this would mean turning a blind eye to a lot of inequality and suffering, something that contradicts our values. We're seeing this play out in Australia with the indigenous culture being destroyed by western culture, (i part) because we cannot turn a blind eye to the poverty that appears to be a consequence of living in that culture. There is no obvious answer to this.


> But by forcing our values onto SE Asian cultures, we are assuming that they cannot come up with "better" answers, and assuming that our way is the only way. Maybe there's an alternative to western society that they'll discover and share with us if we just let them do it their way? Maybe our western society is just not a good fit for their culture?

There's a lot of "forcing [of] values" going on in many SE Asian cultures, but the forcing is indigenous and towards maintaining existing power structures against other indigenous desires for reform.

If left alone, those "'better' answers" you speak of could be to the question of how authoritarians can suppress the kinds of cultural and political changes that happened in the West to bring about democracy.

In the end, I don't think SE Asian democracy would look exactly like modern Western society, but that doesn't mean that the status quo should be left undisturbed as some kind of experiment.


I get that. But a lot of the time the drive to enforce Western values does way more harm than good. The obvious example is the Vietnam war (and the US treatment of Cambodia that lead directly to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge). But less obviously, championing a "reformist" in Myanmar lead to a complete mess (and arguably genocide).

Maybe if we started with the point of view that SE Asians have the right to determine their own government, and that may not look like our western ideas of "acceptable" government, instead of starting with the assumption that these people need saving from tyrants and monsters?

Right now the status quo in most of SE Asia is rapidly accelerating wealth. In Europe that brought the kind of social changes that demanded democracy. Maybe leaving them "undisturbed" is exactly the right thing to do...


I try to avoid calling them "Western" values to disentangle things which are empirical from things which are less so.

For instance, "Western" medicine is undeniably better than "traditional X" medicine. Because what people actually mean by "Western" medicine is modern medicine leaving behind all the historical western folk remedies that didn't work and keeping the folk remedies that worked. A lot of modern medicine comes from countries which would not be considered Western. You can of course split hairs in this discussion as well.

Censorship? Protectionism? These are less obvious concerns. That someone does not see the tragedy in holding a wife accountable for the democratic leanings and agitations of the husband and seeks to punish the husband by imposing punishments on the wife is so obviously unjust to me. The possibility that maybe society can be better when punishments are imposed in this way (the empirical question that would justify it under a utilitarian analysis) is just unconvincing to me (because I doubt it is true, I devalue utilitarian justice over individual justice and I don't even think the husband committed a crime). I could be wrong, though.


> There are no democracies in SE Asia.

I wonder if you consider India to be in SE Asia. If not, please ignore the following.

Last I looked there were regular elections happening there, with "strong leaders" being voted out of power with some regularity. They have problems (same as everywhere including the USA), but democracy / free elections aren't a problem (yet).

"Democracy has never worked in SE Asia" is an extremely strong statement, and in your comment, I find too many stereotypes about the region, and a shallow understanding. (paraphrasing -'some of them believe in karma and so democracy can't work there' is so ridiculous an argument that I wonder if you are doing it deliberately to provoke discussion. Makes about as much sense as saying that some catholics believe that a monarchy is the best form of government so elections won't work in Ireland)


I would consider India to be South Asia, not SE Asia ;) and I've never been there so my ignorance is profound.

It is a strong statement. But as far as I can tell it's a true one. As far as I'm aware there's no SE Asian country that has a democratic government that we in the west would consider acceptable. I could be wrong - there are a lot of countries there and I'm not familiar with all of them.

My apologies for the sweeping statements. It's a complex subject and a HN post doesn't give room to explore the topic fully. I totally agree that this is a bit stereotypical. But it is based on my actual experiences in the region over the past few years. I have no idea whether more time there would change my opinion or reinforce it.


"I would consider India to be South Asia, not SE Asia"

ok. that's fair.

Do you consider Japan to be part of SE Asia? Taiwan? (Due disclosure, I've never lived either country - only transited through them - and don't follow their politics closely, but afaik they are both democracies with regular and fair elections).

In your opinion are these countries 'true' democracies? (fwiw, not trying to pick a fight, just trying to wrap my head around what you are really saying)


In my head, SE Asia is everything East of Bangladesh, South of Mongolia, North of Australia, and I guess West of Hawaii.

I would include China in there, but not Korea or Japan, for not very well articulated reasons. I guess "Southern China" if that was a thing ;) Not sure about Taiwan at all.

So, looking at the "Democracy Index"[1], the highest-ranking SE Asian countries are Malaysia and the Philippines, at 52 and 53 respectively, out of the 167-member list. The lowest is Laos at 151. Only 4 (those two, Singapore and PNG) count as "flawed democracies" (but then the USA is in that category too). The rest are "hybrid" or "authoritarian". I guess it's a spectrum rather than a black-and-white "true"/"not true" democratic rating.

I get that Japan and Korea have fully-functioning democracies, yet similar power distance in their cultures and a similar religious cultural basis. I haven't visited those places yet, so again my ignorance is profound.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index


Taiwan is the awkward counterexample. It never experienced the cultural severing of the Cultural Revolution, yet is arguably the most thriving democracy in Asia.


East Asia is China, the Koreas, Taiwan, and Japan. South Asia is the Indian subcontinent, and sometimes Afghanistan and Myanmar. SE Asia encompasses everything inbetween - so Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and maybe-Papua New Guinea.


As one South-east Asian, thank you.


I admire you courage but have you considered the possibility that you might be wrong on this? Probability that China would change anything because of lack of Google products is about zero. In fact, not having Google benefits them even more because now there is no one reviewing of any censorship rules. If Google is there (1) they can minimize censorship as much as possible by pushing back frequently (2) people in China benefits from access to much better search and subsequently gets better educated over time.

Consider the fact that vast majority of search queries will not be affected by the censorship. Your actions are depriving billion+ people from these queries. Think of all the things kids could have found out about science and western literature by better search that they currently aren't.

Finally, I would to leave a note on cultural aspects. Being in western world, we assume that every culture in the world wants democracy. We firmly believe that every culture resents censorship. From my contact with many asian folks, I have changed my assumptions and such belief. Chinese culture is fundamentally different. Government is not looked at some agency that people allowed to govern but rather an agency that is charted to protect culture even if it is at the expense of individualism. My theory is that even if Chinese government was toppled, the replacement would still have same characteristics because that is the expectation that people have from their government.


> If Google is there (1) they can minimize censorship as much as possible by pushing back frequently

You push back against the Party in China, you're out of business. It is common knowledge that being in good terms with party officials is a prerequisite for any really successful company in China.


> My theory is that even if Chinese government was toppled, the replacement would still have same characteristics because that is the expectation that people have from their government.

Taiwan is a counterexample.


It all comes down to economics. The population is OK with the CCP's policies because they brought unprecedented growth. The GDP growth chart since the cultural revolution is really almost hard to believe. The part of the population that's profiting from this development happens to be large enough to lead to a somewhat stable political situation.

This is obviously supported by extremely authoritative measures from government. Just look at what's happening in Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. Imagine now, what happens when the growth engine stops or even reverses. The population might be much less accommodating to restrictive policies like the social credit system.


And this can happen in a blink of an eye the fall of the berlin wall for example.

And I suspect the fate of Ceausescu must weigh on the minds of the party leaders.


Not a good example though. Many Chinese see the current Taiwan government as a failure and use it as an argument that China should NOT adopt western democracy


That is surprising since Taiwan eclipsed China in technological development and its GPD per capita is over 5x larger than Chinas.

edit: despite economic pressure from China.

But why should they have a realistic impression if information is controlled?


Because Taiwan was much more prosperous in the last few decades of last century, before Taiwan fully embraced western democracy and started having two ruling parties. Now, however, with Taiwan's economy/average wage being almost stagnant for almost twenty years, and the huge mess in the Taiwan politics, it is hard to see anything good came out of "democracy".

> But why should they have a realistic impression if information is controlled?

They may not know Taiwan well enough, but on average they know it much better than westerners.


"Many Chinese"... where did you get this number from?


By talking to people and reading online. I'm Chinese btw.


So what? Many Chinese people also see Taiwan as a success.


Do Chinese political prisoners feel lees pain when they get tortured? Do their family and friends feel less of a loss if they get killed? Would the people who look away swap with those they sweep under the rug, yes or no?

I for one judge people who look away by the facts, not the facts by others looking away, and after over half a century of killing political dissidents, the people who live now aren't the ones I would ask for direction. I would ask the ones that got killed first, if anyone.

> Think of all the things kids could have found out about science and western literature by better search that they currently aren't.

I first and foremost think of all the western literature, and more importantly history, I read and understood. I go by what I know for a fact, not by what others don't know yet. I don't "assume they want democracy", I know for a fact that I must not participate in totalitaranism, and won't break bread with those who do, or who offer it fig leaves.

Our intellectual and moral tradition, and the responsibilities that history places on us, is as it is. People can cut themselves off from it by ignoring it, to avoid a bit of friction here and get a bit of money or tourism there, but in the end that's just a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mess_of_pottage


> Chinese culture is fundamentally different. Government is not looked at some agency that people allowed to govern but rather an agency that is charted to protect culture even if it is at the expense of individualism.

Depends on the culture. Currently the Chinese government is doing its best to eradicate certain cultures and put their adherents in concentration camps[1].

It isn't just a censorship issue. Dragonfly would help put people in camps.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/muslims-...


> If Google is there (1) they can minimize censorship as much as possible by pushing back frequently

The CCP doesn't value Google, and they will ban them if they "push back." If Google wants to operate in China, they will have to be the most slavish of lackeys.

You're also ignoring the leverage the CCP will gain over Google's non-PRC operations by allowing them in. It's not hard to find recent examples of the CCP/PRC using economic leverage on foreign companies to make them fall in line with its political positions (e.g. representation of Taiwan on airline websites, treatment of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, etc.). I think the most important aspect of Project Dragonfly is that leverage.


>(2) people in China benefits from access to much better search and subsequently gets better educated over time.

This is the point I rarely heard here, or any Western communities.

As a Chinese, I was genuinely baffled when I first heard that there are people actually boycotting the re-entry of Google in China, instead of celebrating this milestone. I thought we can finally have a usable search engine.

I guess we get in the way of ideality. Oh well.


The Chinese government is uninterested in letting Western companies compete on the same ground as Chinese companies (e.g. any company with a significant market share in China vs their foreign counterparts doing business).

Entering China at the cost of 1) having to hand over personal information wholesale to the Chinese government in compliance with "local laws" (remember not to look at Xinjiang!) and 2) being forced into a losing position against local competitors like Baidu anyway is neither ethically great nor financially prudent.

In any case, Google is acting only in the interest of profit (as a for profit company beholden to shareholders), and painting it as some kind of great privilege for China to be receiving is big-headed on Google's part and a saccharine narrative justifying a purely business decision to make more money.


Agreed with you. I'm not delusional to think Google's attempt of entry is "for Chinese people", just that practically it will help. And most importantly, it won't do more harm (some other people in this thread mentioned that it may help them to "export" censorship tool to other countries, which is a valid point.)

On the other hand, I don't feel Google's departure from China in 2010 was purely based on ideals either.


Two ways of looking at it. Many see it as a betrayal of Google's ideals. They left in 2010 because there was a breach in gmail originating from government affiliates and consequently endangering customers. Also, it the west this was perceived as a stand against human rights issues in China. So now a reentry looks like they are backtracking from that stance.

On the other hand, as you say, a purely pragmatic view is that it wouldn't make the situation worse if they offer a censored search engine, because that's the only thing (most) Chinese users get now anyway.


You should talk to your government then. Nobody is against Google going back to China. It is about Google developing and supporting censorship (tools),


As I stated in a comment questioning what possible impact this project could have: "My primary motivation is fighting these types of capitulations becoming precedents. If an American tech company will willfully aid the CCP in preventing information on human rights from spreading and build tools for a nationwide dragnet, what would they ever stand up for?"

google.com exists and serves Chinese queries. If the Chinese Communist Party wants to continue blocking that because they don't like their citizens learning about human rights or Nobel prizes (yes, that is literally on the blacklist), then that is their option. But, for an American tech company to actively aid them for profit is a bridge too far.

I refuse to help normalize what I now know to be a history of American tech companies committing human rights abuses in exchange for access to foreign funding (with Cisco's creation of a surveilance and torture-management system targeting the Falun Gong being a particularly disturbing example).


Not that the extreme methods are morally justified, but FLG is basically Chinese Scientology with the homophobic pieces as well as convincing people to forgo modern medicine for prayer. People die from it. Anti-Vax isn’t even that popular in the US and people are already clamoring for parents to be locked up.


The Chinese government keeps camps of Falun Gong to harvest organs from. The fact that their religion is problematic is not even close to relevant in the face of their oppression.


The only thing Google has any interest in minimizing in China is the percentage of the search/ad market outside of their control.


> but I don't understand your defeatism.

> I publicly resigned from Google

Because for every one that resigned, there are most likely hundreds that stay.

I do admire your courage and willing to take a stand. In the face of an oppressive government like China I hope I would have the courage to do the same.


I for one refrain from what I consider evil for my own sake, not for the sake of whoever might perpetrate it instead of me. And I also think it's a misconception that being complicit with evil is safer than resisting it -- the instant gratification may be higher, but that is still invisibly small vs. the long tail of not giving in. I'd be too afraid to throw away what little innocence I may have, for nothing substantial in return. I'm not being idealistic at all, I simply cling to the solid ground I am on, and it's actually kinda easy to defend that against people who are on sand and their weapons made of smoke. Only I could make myself lose what I "have", just like I can't "give" it to anyone else. For me that's not the brave choice, it's the safer one.


Possibly, but American culture can actually be very good at taking collective action. In fact it can be so effective that often the way for special interest groups to push an agenda is to sway public opinion about a topic.


public opinion is an illusion in a world shaped by minority interest groups. It doesn't matter if it's neocons pulling the strings or the neoliberals in power. The outcomes are devastatingly destructive policies to line the pockets of the 1% at the expense of nature and the rest of us.

If we remember Occupy Wallstreet and look at how many people have been placed on lists, or how many protesters got hurt, in comparison with what the movement achieved, then it's proof that leaflet-campaigns achieve nothing. The bankers are still not held accountable a decade later and continue to collect fat bonuses all around the world. Peaceful protests aren't the solution. Anyone who reads history knows peaceful discourse has never triggered change when it mattered.

Peaceful protests are just a lot of noise. Ranting on facebook or twitter unfortunately solves nothing. Real action is painful and people (often millions) die. That's the only time when change happened in the past. Denying this is wishful thinking (at best) and akin to white-washing history (at worst).

"War on the planet" is happening as we speak. Yet all people do is talk while we're getting boiled like proverbial frogs. We rather engage in wishful thinking that tech / science (our new substitute religions) will solve these problems (what else to tell kids in their 20ies today?). The reality on how change can happen is bleaker. A whole spectrum of options are available - but none of them are peaceful. It essentially involves getting rid of at least 2/3 of the global population to give the planet a chance of recovery from humanities crimes against the planet.

With the compounded damage from climate change and global dimming, even if the human population is reduced to 10K surviving individuals, it's still no guarantee that the planet survives in that case.

So leaflet campaigns and peaceful discourse are laughable considering that all humans do in the face of these terrors is to engage in identity politics and fight for individual "rights" instead of talking about responsibilities.

EDIT: clarity/typos


I don’t recall OWS as having any concrete goals or demands. Seems hard to achieve a goal without having defined one.


they did make demands[1][2] many of them such as reducing corporate power, forgive student loans, ...

But the fact that these weren't only ignored but didn't even result in a meaningful discussion is exactly my point.

[1] 10 Demands Being Made By The Wall Street Protesters https://www.businessinsider.com/finally-specific-demands-fro...

[2] PICKET: Occupy Wall Street protesters post manifesto of 'demands' https://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2011/oct/3/...


> Ranting on facebook or twitter unfortunately solves nothing.

As opposed to ranting on HN?


same difference. and for the record I don't exclude myself.


And tons that will be willing to replace them.


Anyone who says "but others will do it instead" to excuse something they're doing is those other people. And someone doing something evil that I chose to not do doesn't actually replace me -- I'm still me, and I'm still glad to have made that choice.


Indeed. People are morally responsible for what they actually do; not for their presumed actions in someone else's alternate reality.


I don't think anyone's using that excuse to justify working for Google, I think they're just saying that a small number of people quitting Google isn't nearly enough to stop them.

Google employs at least 20k engineers. I'd be shocked if 100 quit over this news.

Google could be murdering kittens to cool servers with their blood and you could probably find enough competent engineers to keep 10 Google's fully staffed. The vast majority of people do not give two shits.


An infinite number of people working for Google cannot stop me from not working for them. Which makes no difference to them and all the difference to me.

Everybody dies anyway, nobody is remembered, or gets to keep anything; we can build what we want, end result is the same. The only brief moment of reality is our experience of the universe and the kind of life we lead, and if what you claim true for "the vast majority of people" was true, IMO that would just mean the vast majority are deeply sick and probably frightened shitless of death. That'd no doubt be very important for them, but how would it matter for me? Should I jump into their pool, to drown alongside them and make them feel better?


Wonderfully put.


I'll take credit for stealing well from good people, but no more :)

https://pastebin.com/gPgy648A


I agree with you. I wouldn't work there. All I'm saying is that people aren't making as big a deal of a deal as they should be if they want it to change.

I'm also saying that people who are saying this will hurt Google or make it hard for them to hire new people are flat-out wrong.


You’re missing the point. It’s not about whether or not you can pat yourself on the back on your deathbed for not working for google. The point is that if we want to make a meaningful difference to stop google, it takes more action than inaction.

All it takes is for a few good people to do nothing...


It absolutely starts with not being complicit though, and not diminishing a moral decision as being valuable in and of itself.


By leaving Google, one of the most powerful tech companies in the world, the engineers are lowering the mean moral compass of the engineering base.

Additionally, leaving a secure, well-paid role in political protest takes a certain amount of privilege. My father left an amazing job in protest over immoral actions and I can assure you that it had huge financial impacts on my life growing up. I respect him for his decision and I like to think I'd make the same one, however, I can understand how people even less fortunate aren't making political choices with their employment.


> By leaving Google, one of the most powerful tech companies in the world, the engineers are lowering the mean moral compass of the engineering base.

Good.

It's not like a good, ethical developer is going to change things from the inside. Companies are not democracies, they are dictatorships.

So what if Google has no good and moral developers left? At least it will become more obvious what Google truly is while the 'good' developers can make a positive contribution elsewhere. It was clearly never going to happen at Google anyway, not with a incentives a publicly-traded company has.

I would much prefer Google to be manned entirely by the kinds of people I wouldn't dream of inviting into my home. I'm already against the company's existence, so Google having nobody left with a shred of integrity or backbone would make it a whole lot easier to argue for the company's demise, in whatever shape that may come.


It also means that, on average, the skill level of the engineers is decreasing. Which means quite a lot to how far reaching their products will be


Google already operates in multiple countries with histories of and ongoing human rights violations. What has triggered such a reaction from you about expansion into China vs their operation in say Saudi Arabia which was ongoing while you were at Google?


I never saw the blacklist for the KSA. If I had seen something like what I saw for China, I'm sure I would have fought that too. I have spent about a month visiting a university in the KSA (once during the public flogging of Raif Badawi) and care very much about Google's concessions and complicity there.


I'm wondering which part of dragonfly makes you so unhappy. Is it the censorship itself or the censorship without telling user about it?


I am not okay with a company headquartered in a democratic country actively building tools to suppress political inquiry and organizing. To be clear, this included Google literally building a blacklist containing the terms 'human rights' and 'student protest' and ensuring that the Chinese Communist Party could track Chinese citizens' queries by their phone number.


I don't get it. As a Chinese, I can say that the absence of Google (even a highly censored version) will (and have already) only make it worse.

>Google literally building a blacklist

Every single search engine or social media in China already has that. Yes, Google likely will build one for their services if they plan to enter China. But it's not like they come up, or "actively" help with this idea.


It's complicated because the real choice being made is masked.

And when an org develops a habit of pushing people out who can see the moral dimension, it increases the number of decision makers within the org that don't.

I know someone who resigned for similar Moral Reasons when we were working on a project for a foreign country. At the time, I am ashamed to say, lot of people laughed and attacked him for the reasons being "superficial".

Exec Mgmt's position was - we are doing things conforming to the "local laws". The thing was, local laws existed in name only. You could get away with whatever you wanted by bribing people or helping the wrong kind of people. And once you have managers in place who have no problem with that what do you think happens?

Fast forward 15 years and we saw massive fines and few people went to jail. This plays out constantly in companies.


I agree with your point but it's not what I'm talking about.

I was trying to say that from my (together with some other Chinese people's) perspective, it is "more moral" to re-enter China because it helps Chinese people to educate themselves better by giving a significant better search service. I don't see it as a way to help our gov. to suppress us. Quite the opposite, actually.

Again, I respect our ideality or value difference. But I think I should voice my view on it.


> ... because it helps Chinese people to educate themselves better...

This was the idea years ago when we allowed it enter WTO. We were wrong on that. Now we are debating whether we should allow China export censorship?!


How would Google profiting from a tightly controlled Chinese internet make it better?


Besides the implicit endorsement, does it really change anything on the ground? Existing search engines are already censored in China, and those that wish to bypass via VPN, can still do so after Google releases their censored version.


It doesn't matter if it changes anything. It's about having principles and standing for something. We're a part of this world, and we have a duty to do the things we think are right. Not everything in life is a god damn utility maximization function. Sometimes you have to do the right thing because you want others to act the same way you do, and because it's wrong to build tools for future totalitarian rulers.


My primary motivation is fighting these types of capitulations becoming precedents. If an American tech company will willfully aid the CCP in preventing information on human rights from spreading and build tools for a nationwide dragnet, what would they ever stand up for?


All those employees count be doing something better if they cancel their authoritarian oppression project.

prepend 44 days ago [flagged]

This is such a weird argument when applied to other areas. “Does it really change anything on the ground? Someone else will make the ovens and gas chambers?”

“Does it really change anything on the ground? Someone else will assassinate Archduke Ferdinand?”

Etc. being morally opposed to something and trying to abstain from supporting it is not the same as campaigning against something’s existence. I wouldn’t work for a bomb company, but I’m not trying to shut down Lockheed Martin.

There’s many different moral systems. Some people are trying to not make things worse. Others are doing different things. It’s ok that there are gradations.


I think your comparison to building gas chambers is hyperbolic and ridiculous.


So you are saying that China doesn't use their surveillance apparatus to find and murder political disedents?


Well, China used to execute prisoners on demand if organ donations were needed. While not up there with the extermination of an entire religion, it is quite an impressive level of exploitation.

They also imprison a large amount of people in re-education camps.


In human culture, when a company claims it supports a free and open internet but makes moves to support a closed, surveilled and censored internet, that is generally considered a dick move.


What you've done is admirable. If more people were willing to value other human beings over their own comfort like you, the world would truly be a better place.

You're a kind person. You'll probably be alright economically, but if you ever feel socially excluded for what you've done, remember that what you did was right.


I know my words aren’t worth much, but this anonymous human on the internet is very proud of you for standing up for what is right.


Thank you!


as a new silicon valley engineer who is trying to work out his morals and boundaries, you are an inspiration to me

your impact is larger than you think - thank you


> Source: I publicly resigned from Google over dragonfly and dedicated months of my life and income to fighting it.

Rather than fight it, wouldn't it have been more effective to try to replace it?

A couple of really smart folks with some funding can found "NotGoogle, and actually not evil."

Breaking Google's monopoly would do far more good than just taking on this single issue.


> Rather than fight it, wouldn't it have been more effective to try to replace it?

No, probably not, even if it would be more effective if you did actually replace it.

> A couple of really smart folks with some funding can found "NotGoogle, and actually not evil."

Isn't that the concept of DDF?

> Breaking Google's monopoly would do far more good than just taking on this single issue.

Perhaps. But if displacing Google were “easy” (like on the scale of “it would only take some of the best tech talent in the world and an enormous supply of capital”), the FAA and M of FAANGMAN, and some others, would each already have done it.


"they'll also have complete control over them" "But why should Googlers care?"

This is a dumb take. Googlers are the one reporting/protesting all of these things. This is a very different situation than Facebook where most of the leaking has been external. It's also different than HN's reaction to Apple, which apparently can whatever it wants to its Chinese users.

The world is not black and white, it is gray. And some companies are more active than others in trying to find a balance between morality and realism.


Here are two realistic facts:

1. Google would be absolutely fine if they do not expand into China. They would not collapse or lose their competitive edge if they refrained from doing so. You've worked at Google for over a decade so you should know this is true.

2. Google's censored search engine would absolutely facilitate Xi Jinping ability to censor the Chinese people and would set a dangerous precedent for other governments to make similar demands.

Google, which is already one of the wealthiest and most secure companies in the world, is developing a tool for suppression and bending to the demands of a dictator in the name of profit. Perhaps you have a different moral stance than I do, Ari, but I see nothing "gray" about this blind pursuit of money at the cost of over a billion people's free will.


There isn't anything gray at the level of individual, straightforward morals considered in a vacuum—I think censorship is generally bad, therefore Google's decision to engage in censorship is bad.

Considered at a global scale, however, the outcomes of the collisions of interests of the many groups involved does not make this a simple issue. We have to examine, and this is not completely granular nor exhaustive list:

1. The interests of Google "the company" (execs) 2. The interests of the Chinese nation state 3. The interests of the Chinese people 4. The interests of the US nation state 5. The interests of Google employees

All of these interests intersect in interesting ways and the groups behind them may be for or against the motion. For example, Chinese citizens might be excited at the prospect of getting a higher quality search engine, even if it censors some results. The US might be interested in a broader form of censorship (no Google at all) in order to maintain some kind of global hegemony (or vice versa, to bring money into the US from a foreign market). The Chinese government may be interested in the service for different purposes than those of its citizens (tracking).

The list goes on.

I agree that the threat of a dangerous precedent is in play, but I also would like to point out that simply because a precedent was established doesn't make further applications of it inviolable, nor does it prevent an actor (e.g. Google) from breaking an agreement if they discover their tooling has been used for purposes more nefarious than basic censorship (e.g. putting people in prison camps).

There's not even anything binding Google to democratic principles nor the interests of the US nation state. We may like to think companies reflect our values as a nation, but outside of those imposed by the law, there is nothing binding them to doing so.

I'm not an advocate of the project, but I do think painting it as a simple moral question glosses over the many nuances and complexities of the issue. In some respects I find taking a reductive approach to these issues and treating them as unproblematic black/white moral questions is also dangerous, as not fully exploring the issue in its depth prevents us from seeing the potentially major effects a decision may have.


I don't really appreciate the diving into my background, so thanks for that.

1. Will Google really be fine? China is the up and coming superpower of the century. How many large corporations from Britain in the late 1800s / early 1900s are still large that didn't invest in the US?

2. Doesn't Xi Jinping already have this ability to an even greater degree with Baidu/other Chinese tech companies? I do worry about the precedent.

Who are we to ignore the will of the majority of Chinese folks I've seen that do want Google to come to their country, even in this censored form?


>I don't really appreciate the diving into my background, so thanks for that.

Are you ashamed of it? There's more than a little irony in this complaint, given that scraping and republishing publicly available information is Google's core product - indeed the odds are high that OP literally used Google to do this.


I appreciate the merits of having an argument based on the points raised, not the backgrounds of the participants. Especially when one of them is hiding behind an anonymous string of characters.


> They would not collapse or lose their competitive edge if they refrained from doing so.

Alphabet is a Deleware corporation, where executives that leave money on the table for moral reasons have to at least claim that it was their business judgment that the action would ultimately increase profits for shareholder value in the long term.

There are many arguments those executives could make, such as that employees could get dissatisfied with the company and cost them more in the long run, so it is important for employees to be loud about it.


They're literally not allowed to make decisions on a moral basis, only a monetary one? That's pretty dystopian.


Probably not literally, evidenced by Tim Cook’s “I don’t consider the bloody ROI” comment.


He can only really say that knowing in court he can say that saying it was for PR to help the long term bottom line.


That’s not a thing. It doesn’t require explicit opt outs all of the time in shareholder meetings where they explain all of the unethical things they decided not to do to make money.


>Alphabet is a Deleware corporation, where executives that leave money on the table for moral reasons have to at least claim that it was their business judgment that the action would ultimately increase profits for shareholder value in the long term.

Naw. In order for the directors to be stopped by 'leaving money on the table' someone would need to bring a claim against them. One which they would almost certainly lose.

And then even if someone did, the executives wouldn't even need to make the claim that the actions ultimately increased profits at all, because the courts just toss them a strong presumption for free.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_judgment_rule

You're repeating a lie. Stop it.


They have to make decisions in support of their charter, which usually includes profit maximization. Google at least used to have "Don't be Evil" in there, which should be a pretty relevant shield.


It was never in the charter. It's not a shield of any sort. It's just a motto in the code of conduct. The motto has since changed but those words are still there, now in the last sentence.

It's meaningless and always has been. Why do people think that this cheesy phrase makes any difference for a giant corporation?


Thanks, I appreciate the correction.

> Why do people think that this cheesy phrase makes any difference for a giant corporation?

Speaking for myself. I thought it made a difference as part of the charter, with the expectation that overtly evil behavior can be punished eith real teeth (shareholder lawsuits for violating the charter)


> But why should Googlers care? After all, those free meals, pools, video game rooms, and gyms aren't going to pay for themselves

This story is literally about employees uncovering evidence of ongoing work and pressuring execs to stop it by going public with the information.


This paper on 'simple sabotage' was written by the CIA during WWII

https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/...

It's really interesting. Basically if you can't fight back , just resort to sabotage.

They discuss things like:

- having extra meetings because meetings are inefficient.

- promote lazy and mean people and demote effective and committed people because it impacts morale.

I think this might be a somewhat effective way to fight back in some of these situations.

Don't like your companies new policy on China?

More meetings! Also, promote Bob.


Hi, I am Bob, and I fully endorse this message. See also point three in yesterday's meeting minutes.


It's especially interesting how many times people quote "dont be evil" as a real thing that somehow made the company extra special. It was nothing but a PR statement (and the words are still there) but it shows how big the Google cult/bubble is that refuses to acknowledge that the company has always been just like any other massive conglomerate.


Power corrupts but the placard is still there and if the staff are holding their ground on opposing then its a sign that it may yet still be relevant.

I may very well be optimistic but I don't think Dragonfly will ever be released.


> Google will move forward with expansion into China. Anyone who doesn't believe that is frankly naive.

I agree. Google's only care is for profit.


That's what every private company care for.

They can try to hide it, disguise it, make it easy to forget, at the end of the day if they don't make money everything is over.


That's not actually true. Every company needs to profit, of course, but not every company has that as their sole concern.


As long as their stock is up, add investors to the list too.


If we have gotten to the point where people are unwilling to trade a six figure job with free sushi for a six figure job without free sushi to stand up for what is right, we have bigger problems.


Yeah, I think this is how a company achieves anything nefarious. Sensational media and people are fickle; they consume a few clickbaity articles and then forget them. Meanwhile, companies keep pursuing the goal. Again, their motto has been Keep Evil Undetectable, and we have to tell ourselves that this is a long and ongoing battle. But I'd say that democracy has been always a long and ongoing battle: When you stop paying an attention, you lose.


Sounds like sour grapes from a Facebook worker. I used to work at google. I loved working there, but I wasn't a prisoner of luxury, and I left to go to a startup that didn't promise me the world. After I left I somehow resisted the urge to try to go back. It's a great company but there are lots of things that attract people to jobs.


For every employee resigning from this project, there's a magnitude more willing to fill in the position.


Have you ever worked at one of these "cushy" jobs? I've worked at a few. The sweet benefits wear off quick. There are usually one or two you really love, and you can easily find them in other companies.


That’s fine and good now but when you start to erode trust the relationship becomes transactional. People loose enthusiasm for the job, stop going the extra mile, makes it harder to hire the best, and it puts the culture at risk. It ultimately accelerates a companies time to sunset and with a few bad quarters those benefits start getting taken aaay. You’ve hollowed out your company and have nothing left. Google was better off taking the high road and prospering of the culture and good will rather than a buck.


I think people protesting about this miss the point:

- It is incredibly valuable to know what China wants censored.

- It is the people of China that needs to be empowered to change their laws, outside force from a foreign country will only invite conflict.

(Note that I have no respect for Google because they are a scummy company - not for censoring in China but for spying on people everywhere, regardless of their citizenship).


This is one more great reassign to completely divorce health benefits from employment.

People should not be making the choice between the health and possibly lives of their family and working for an employer destroying the fabric of society.


I can’t believe I am saying this but pendulum has swung so far in the wrong direction that something needs to give. Until some sort of universal safety net is established that at least guarantees the simple living, we will keep on seeing lack of pushback on these moral issues


I resigned from Google and I don't care about any of those perks. You can use money to buy that stuff. I was happy when they left China and will be sad to see them go back. I don't own any GOOG anymore, so via con dios.


> Google will move forward with expansion into China

Only if the Chinese let them.


All people want from life is free meals and video games?



I still don't get what logic is used to arrive at the conclusion that Google deploying search in China should be stopped. Everyone I have seen simply assumes it.


Replace google and execs with chinese authoritatians and workers with citizens


Google will learn from the Chinese implementation and come back to President Trump in his second term (or Bernie) for its implementation in the USA


Everyday to work I pass a huge Bayer building. A very unethical company, but pays excellent and people in masses enter the building each day. If you pay enough, you will always find people working for you whatever you do.


I find kind of hypocrite to reject the idea of a company working in a product that serves the Chinese market (which, btw, is ultra protectionist), while actively consuming goods that are manufactured in China.

I'm not saying that people don't have the right to morally object something like this project, but it's kind of baffling that many are loudly voicing their concerns and demonizing any company that is attempting to do something in China, while looking the other way when tweeting from their Chinese made iPhones, and writing dissenting articles in their Chinese made computers.

People should try to find better ways to calibrate their moral compass and focus their activism into more important and threatening issues. There are liberties that are being violated right here, right now.

If you think you can't work at Google because they are building a product for China, it would be pretty hard to work for any company in America, given how everything in this country is piggybacked on Chinese made goods.


The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Do you accept money for your work? Odds are that some of that money was gained through less than 100% ethical means -- if not directly by the person/company you got the money from, then perhaps by the person/company they got it from, etc. At some point down the line, some of it might be called "dirty money" or maybe even "blood money".

So what do you do? Do you stop accepting money because you have to be 100% ethical?

Do you stop interacting with any company that's not 100% ethical, with any person that's not 100% ethical, with any country that's not 100% ethical? Do you devote your life to protesting these unethical individuals, companies, and countries?

Some people do, but they are a vanishingly small number -- so small that if all positive change relied just on them, nothing would change.

The rest of us choose to make compromises, and we're not 100% pure. But that doesn't mean that we can't protest anything unless we protest everything, and it doesn't mean we can't accomplish some good while unfortunately participating to some extent in a non-prefectly ethical system.


right but the choices of what crosses the line seem arbitrary and often people protest things that aren't nearly as bad as things they are complicit in. Its moreso to make themselves feel better and maybe out of boredom.


what causes are just?

when is it okay to protest?

are there any cases, either in the past or present, that you consider worthwhile and in good faith?


> I'm not saying that people don't have the right to morally object something like this project, but it's kind of baffling that many are loudly voice their concerns while looking the other way when tweet from their Chinese made iPhones, and write dissenting articles in their Chinese made computers.

I don't get it — following your logic people shouldn't be protesting anything China-related because they're using chinese goods? I mean, this isn't a binary issue — you can buy chinese computers because most computers are made there and regret that Google is building a search engine to censor political queries.


I agree with you. My comment is about those who put these issues at the center of high-profile debates and seem to demonize individuals and organizations without looking at how their actions contribute to the issue.

By no means, I'm trying to say that you can't regret an issue without indirectly being part of a system that aggravates the same issue. I think nobody can escape this.

But it's different when you want to raise someone or something to a certain moral standard without understanding how fungible is that particular moral standard.

Sometimes people are just wasting their energy on things that are only an issue by their standards and not by the standards of the people who are ultimately affected by the issue itself (in this case the Chinese people).

I would like to see Google employees object with the same energy, things like Google unhinged data collection practices.


>Sometimes people are just wasting their energy on things that are only an issue by their standards and not by the standards of the people who are ultimately affected by the issue itself (in this case the Chinese people).

That’s not how morals work. Just because you’re not the victim of human rights abuse doesn’t mean you can’t try to prevent it.


I don't think that's what whoisjuan meant. The Chinese people who would be "victimized" by Google welcome the new search engine. Presumably, they would choose to use it because they want to. It is not productive to be angry on their behalf.


Given the state of activism and rebellion brewing in China, I am doubtful. From what I've learned about censorship in china in 2019, i am convinced we are on the same side.


I'm Chinese and I can tell you I think Dragonfly will do more good than harm. You can check my comment history if you doubt I'm a real person.

Here's another Chinese person saying the same thing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19308777

I've never, in any of the many comment threads on Dragonfly, found a Chinese person who thinks otherwise.

All my Chinese relatives I've talked to also feel the same way, and from their reports, the majority of Chinese people feel the same way.

You are welcome to disagree, but don't put words in our mouths.


Taking a moral stand requires resources, and is therefore more of a privilege than a right. Implicit in this argument is that one must choose their battlefront carefully, because it is usually impossible for one person to fight on all fronts at once. One individual might be an exceptional engineer, and to take a moral stand this individual will refuse to work at certain companies. Another individual might be a wealthy investor, and for the same reason refuse to invest in certain companies. Finally, some people may try to avoid buying products from a particular country of origin.

Pressure on countless different fronts from countless different people for the same moral cause can, and often does, lead to change. Hence, it is not hypocritical at all - to the contrary, it is pragmatic and effective. It's simply individuals doing what they can for something they believe in, and most of them know that they cannot win the battle alone. If it's a worthy cause, such people should be encouraged.

To call the individual who takes a stand on one but not all fronts a hypocrite is, ironically enough, a way of discouraging people from taking a stand at all.


While its not necessarily my opinion, the issue is not about working in/with China, its about building a censored search engine.


Why do you think censored search engine is bad? All other search engine in China have same censorship but worse quality. Why it's bad to have another censored search engine with higher quality?

Or do you want to say you can't have better search engine until the whole censorship is overhauled? If that's the case, why not first stop use oil from Middle East until the war is complete ended there?


The argument is that Google shouldn't build a censored search engine for one authoritarian state, because once it's built, it's easier for other states to ask for the same treatment. China's existing censored search engines are confined to that country, and I would also oppose any adoption of those services in the US.

(As a side note: Is it wrong of me to be suspicious of comments on HN that are enthusiastically pro-China because they have English grammar errors in every sentence? Maybe, but I'm going to do that anyway.)


> Is it wrong of me to be suspicious of comments on HN that are enthusiastically pro-China because they have English grammar errors in every sentence? Maybe, but I'm going to do that anyway.

I think it's wrong of you to label someone as "enthusiastically pro-China" for thinking that having access to a censored version of Google would improve the state of the Chinese search engine market (without using VPNs, anyway). That's more of an anti-China position.

If you ignore comments by Chinese people on China (presumably because you suspect them of being government shills?) you're just discounting the opinion of those with actual first-hand experience and an incentive to see things improve.


It's also worth considering that besides this thread, the only other post from that account was "Wow, GTA V IRL.". I think it's reasonable to be suspicious of the veracity of the account.


>Why it's bad to have another censored search engine with higher quality?

Again, this isn't exactly my personal opinion but the obvious difference is this is one of the US's largest tech companies participating, not some Chinese company that US citizens are not familiar with.

>why not first stop use oil from Middle East until the war is complete ended there

Google employees have the power to protest Google projects, not big oil projects.


The funny thing is that Google search engine is already censored in various parts of the world.

E.g. 1. Right to be forgotten. 2. DMCA. (differing views on this). 3. Russia (?)


1) is different in quality. possibly 2), too, but I don't know enought about it.

in CH, search engines are state-censored for political reasons - mainly to keep in power a semi-dictatorship.

the right to be forgotten was implemented to protect individual rights. one may or may not agree with such a protection. however, the motivation was not systematic political censorship.

edit: missing word.


I'm guessing you typo'd CN as CH, as CH is Switerland https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_3166-2:CH but if you mean CH (the post you were mention other agency supervision) could you share more?


Their regular search engine is already censored. Do you think those top 10 results are really the actual unfettered top 10? What do you specifically consider "censorship?"


Microsoft has a censored search engine live in China right now, where is the backlash against them?


I'm sure all three users revolted.


There's literally dozens of them. Dozens!


Nobody expected any better from Microsoft. That's a lost cause.


My objection isn't even the censorship (I mean, I object to that too, but to a lesser degree).

My primary objection is that Google is (was?) arranging the system so that every user is identified and, if they search for something forbidden, are reported to the government.


Search engines are already censored.


Exactly. There are many websites which won't show up in a Google search in the West also, even if you search for their exact domain name. Some of them can be found on other search engines, some other maybe not.

So it must be that the opponents of this project are not opposed to censorship in general, but to censorship as applied in the People's Republic of China.


Right. The West's censorship is somewhat about fighting crime, protecting at-risk people, protecting people from themselves, and so on. But it's also about protecting the status quo. And, as much as I wouldn't like living in China, their censorship is arguably not that different. At most, there's more emphasis on protecting the status quo.


There's nothing morally wrong with being hypocritical. Everyone is hypocritical. Surely it's better to be inconsistently principled than consistently unprincipled?


Well said.


Moreover we’re all consuming censored results. One is more heavy handed than the other, but we’re all consuming curated results, to one extent or another.


Because Resisting China is so iconic, it now becomes Google's identity. Now they have some pragmatic board members what to go into that market once again, but find themselves unable to do so, because it is enshrined by many of its employees as its glorious legacy.

I'd say forget about Chinese market, let aside Google's own identity struggle, Chinese government, under Xi, is much more stringent about its iron fist control over internet. Also the internet demographics have evolved. When Google quits China, it was hailed by many secretly as hero, now the ultra-nationalist new generation of netizens will welcome Google by their endless outrage against Western hypocrisies. To them, Google isn't the gold child of Western technologism, it is just a homeless dog who is disliked by its new master.


Nobody gives a shit about companies building products for China. People are upset about building censorship and logging tools that will be used to suppress free speech and kill/intern dissidents.

Supporting Chinese businesses by buying from them and being against selling suppression tools to the Chinese government are both sides of the same coin.

You’re conflating “made in China” with “made in America for suppressing the Chinese”. This is textbook propaganda to make the Chinese government and its citizens seem like a unified entity.

“Why would you buy a slice of Pizza in New York and simultaneously complain about the Belgians selling guns to the US government?”


> ...to do something in China

They are not doing "something", they are building an oppression machine.

Your comparison between consuming Chinese goods and actively aiding the oppressing system is a false equivalence fallacy.


We are morally objecting on behalf of the People of the People's Republic of China, who are too stupid/incapable to object for themselves. </sarcasm>


If you get sent to a gulag/executing for objecting i'd say you're incapable of objecting


Yes but a Westerner would hardly be the objective judger of such gulags/guantanamo bays of China. That being said if too many people were being sent to prison in China, unjustly, they'd have another revolution.

The fact is that even if evidence was revealed they had absolutely 0 gulags, or whatever it is you're claiming, it would not do much to silence anti-China sentiment. The presence of the gulags are not falsifiable, since opponents can always claim fabrication by the authoritarian regime. The only objective way is to defer to the majority of Chinese citizens, which currently approve of their government.

There's little point in arguing if the communist party is a party of saints—they'll always be doing something wrong, and they definitely are. The question is do they have a legitimate control of China? That's something only someone under their regime can answer and fight for, not a Western imperialist.


is there a difference in human suffering based on color of skin/cultural background?


In theory, no, but in practice, there's a question to the underlying motivation and ulterior motives if one is fighting for another's rights more than that other person is.

For example, to an American the invasion of Iraq may be officially an Operation for Iraqi Liberation, but to an Iraqi it may seem like control of OIL was the motivation. From a third party perspective you have to assume an American is motivated in self-interest, so if they seem more interested in the "liberation" of another group more than that group is itself, your duty is to question that motivation. The primary purpose of the US government is to serve American interests, so any reasons it gives of altruistic or justice-serving intent can be immediately thrown in the trash. I'm saying this as a tax-paying American citizen by the way.


There is no opting out of ethically wrong choices under global capitalism. That doesn't mean it's not worthwhile to change things.


Google invited these long-term problems onto itself (and so did many other startups) by marketing a culture aside from their technology that got people to join them. "Do good" they said, which invited people to judge them and decide to work there based on whether they continued doing good.

Compare to other companies that were not so "hot" that just promised some less fulfilling employment, but no strong moral or global cause.

Now it has come back to bite them in an employee culture that feels the need to talk about politics at work, invite college-level-immature debate in internal forums, redirect the business with non-business-related concerns -- especially chasing each year's latest fad of social concern.

They now feel the pressure to become a more grown up company, one that has to stomach having customers who hold the same ideals as they do. But every business has to blind itself sometimes to customers who use your product in ways you didn't intend or choose to. That's the cost of being a public company.

I'm exhausted even just watching Google have to tune its morals for the new political flavor of each season. I say, all for the better, for it to act like a normal business.


A counterpoint: Google believed they could attract better engineers (which can be explained either as genuinely more skilled people, who have more ability to choose where they work, or simply more passionate people) with the "Don't be evil" policy. Oracle existed all along. Google wanted to not be Oracle.

Now, Google has decided they want contracts like they're Oracle and they want staff like they're not Oracle. They can't have it both ways. It's not so much that Oracle is a more grown-up company because it learned to pursue profits and not good - it's just that it's easier to survive that way. (Hence the appearance that Oracle is a "normal" business; it's an easier way to run a business, is all, so more businesses do that.)

Nobody forced Google to be a public company. Nobody forced Google to grow as big as it did. Nobody forced Google to talk to China. They brought this on themselves, and they should have known that they couldn't do this and still remain Google.


> Nobody forced Google to be a public company

This is the relevant part.

As soon as you're public, it inevitably introduces strong pressures to pursue profit no matter its cost, as it decouples the negative social externalities corporate actions can cause from the profit made from those actions.


No it doesn’t. There is no threat to google given that the majority voting control is held amongst the founders. Same for Facebook. There is no risk of a hostile takeover or being voted out by public shareholders.


Shareholders have plenty of ways of impacting corporate direction that fall far short of hostile takeovers. E.g. lawsuits; the very fact that a public company has to provide more information about its finances. There's a reason Ruth Porat was brought on after IPO and not before.


> So we should be blaming Brin and Page for this directly?

I'm totally fine with that.

I'd add Schmidt into the mix too. He's had the biggest had in turning Google into what it is.


How is there more coupling between a company's profit and negative social externalities resulting from its actions when the company is privately-owned? If anything, I would think there's rather less coupling in privately owned companies, as a public company is at least forced to be somewhat transparent, publish SEC releases, subject itself to audits, etc. For example, unlike a private company, it wouldn't be possible for Google to engage in a material transformation of their business without accounting for it publicly towards their shareholders.


Google's motto "Don't be evil" is not rigorous. Huawei claims something similar recently. The problem is who defines what's good or evil? Every group of people think they are noble, and the enemies are evil.


Sure, the motto by itself is just words. But like all mottos or mission statements ("free software" is a familiar example) the interesting thing is who else uses the phrase and what they mean by it.

Prospective Google employees saw what Google meant by "Don't be evil" by seeing how Google behaved (and specifically how other Google employees behaved) and decided it was worth following. They didn't just see the three words and think that sounds great.

And I disagree that every group of people thinks they're noble - the comment I replied to specifically says that companies are better when they do not see themselves as noble and only see themselves as profit-seeking.


This post should be at the very top. What exactly has Google been telling its employees it stood for and what exactly can Google provide that others cannot? I am surprised the Chinese military would even allow this.


I think what will end up happening is Google employees will just self-sort until there aren't enough people left in the company to oppose projects like this. People who are strongly opposed on moral grounds will leave, further strengthening management's choices. While Google is probably sad to see them go, it would be even sadder to continue missing out on the world's largest market. I doubt the employee protests will win out here in the long run.


For that reason, Googlers who oppose these kinds of projects should enthusiastically sign up to work on them, so they can have a chance at influencing the outcome. It may feel like the morally superior choice to avoid getting involved, but it just means that the dirty work is done by someone who doesn't care.

For the same reason, I don't think creating a censored search engine for the Chinese market is bad in itself. If you accept that the Chinese government isn't going to change its mind on censorship any time soon, you can still try to do your best within that constraint, e.g. by finding a site with the censored content that's not on the blacklist yet.


This is blind optimism in the face of hard facts.

If Google wants to play in China, they will have to bend to the whims of the CCP. No amount of employee foot-dragging will change that fact.

> For the same reason, I don't think creating a censored search engine for the Chinese market is bad in itself.

This is one the arguments that got trotted out by Google employees last time Dragonfly made headlines. The CCP is putting people in concentration camps[1]. Dragonfly would help them do that better.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/muslims-...


They will have to bend, no doubt, but if they bend even slightly less than everyone else, that's still a win.


You're right, it will be peace for our time if they bend slightly less: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_for_our_time


No, it's not. "Everyone else is doing it" is not an excuse to help put people in camps.


It is if you doing it puts fewer people in camps than the alternative.


The entire point of entering the Chinese market is to make money. Google will make more money doing what the CCP asks well and without question. Putting less people in camps and playing games with the CCP means less money or even losing the Chinese market.


Which will never be how it works.

You think the Chinese government will accept Google deliberately making it more difficult for them to surveill and imprison dissidents?

You're out of your mind if you believe they would allow this in any way. They would sooner turf Google out on its arse than tolerate any interference.

The Chinese government WANTS Google. Think about why that is.


That's a pretty pathetic and inconsequential win.


> Googlers who oppose these kinds of projects should enthusiastically sign up to work on them, so they can have a chance at influencing the outcome.

Incredibly naive in my opinion.

Google is not a democracy, its a pulicly traded company. It's no better than a dictatorship. Further more, a developer does not 'influence' the Chinese government in any way, which is what Google will be beholden to.

The good developers are better leaving to contribute elsewhere. At least when Google is nothing but amoral, unethical, grreedy developers with no social conscience then we can start treating the company as it deserves.


>While Google is probably sad to see them go, it would be even sadder to continue missing out on the world's largest market.

Honestly what I see happening, if Google isn't allowed to position themselves for a rentry into China, is Baidu eventually making an international debut. They have been developing an entire google-esque eco system in a bubble for years now. If Google was there, they wouldn't have such a strangle hold there, and wouldn't become an international threat.


Why would the CCP allow a foreign company to outcompete one of their own homegrown darlings?


What would it matter if Google is operating within the parameters of the government's censorship rules and generating tax revenue for the government?


You're asking this question in an era where we've gotten into a trade war with China?

Because the CCP and its members are heavily invested in quite literally everything that isn't a foreignly owned business operating in China.


they are invested in those too (mandatory Chinese partners with 51% control, with mandatory IP transfers)


It matters a great deal indeed.


> further strengthening management's choices

I think people are forgetting that each of those Google (former) employees have shares and are also shareholders and shareholders will start to get pissed when management is screwing up and will call for a new CEO or new execs or a new board to be put into place that will get Google back on track: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/technology/tech-workers-c...

> I doubt the employee protests will win out here in the long run.

If they lose more employees it can be argued that they're ignoring their fiduciary duty to the shareholders by tarnishing the brand of Google which makes hiring more difficult which leads to less profits.

There's already activist shareholders asking for more gender diversity data for example: https://www.fastcompany.com/40474369/activist-investor-deman...


> each of those Google (former) employees have shares

They have class C shares, which do not have any voting rights. Shareholders without voting rights have absolutely no power to influence policy.

> If they lose more employees it can be argued that they're ignoring their fiduciary duty to the shareholders by tarnishing the brand of Google which makes hiring more difficult which leads to less profits.

You're making a lot of jumps of logic here so I'll split things up:

> If they lose more employees

They're not bleeding employees so quickly that it will cause a problem, the overwhelming majority of Googlers will not leave over this. There's just a few of them, enough to make headlines but not enough to cause any real issue.

> tarnishing the brand of Google

They'd have to tarnish it a lot to get people to stop wanting to work for Google. Even with the latest headlines and controversies, it's still one of the best paying companies out there with awesome benefits, interesting work, and prestigious status. Even employees who are uncomfortable with some of the choices the company is making will think twice before giving all that up.

> which leads to less profits

In the long run this might be true. I'll use the counter-example of Microsoft though: they were the demon for decades and are still one of the most valuable companies in the world. If a tarnished brand for employees guaranteed less profits, they would have died a long time ago.


> They have class C shares, which do not have any voting rights. Shareholders without voting rights have absolutely no power to influence policy.

You're right, they're using class C for compensation: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/052215/goog-or...

But that doesn't prevent employees from buying up class A voting shares, though:

> A shares receive one vote, C shares receive no votes, and B shares receive 10 votes

There's more investors and employees than there are the founders so perhaps it's possible for them to get enough A shares to outvote the super-vote B shares? Unlikely, but possible...

Thanks for offering your opinion, I agree with your thoughts.


> perhaps it's possible for them to get enough A shares to outvote the super-vote B shares

Nope. The company has control over how many class A and B shares exist, and currently between Sergey, Larry, and Eric they control over 50% of the voting rights as determined by shares: https://www.morningstar.com/articles/820137/which-stock-shar...

So there's absolutely no way any employees would be able force anything through a vote. They'd need to convince at least one of those three people.


> it would be even sadder to continue missing out on the world's largest market.

Is that sad though? Really? I'm not exactly tearing up at the thought.


> We think we have an open society because we can criticize our government, but the company we work for has far more impact on our lives, and if you criticize them publicly they will fire you. The private sphere is still run like a dictatorship, by thousands of petty tyrants. Source: https://twitter.com/existentialcoms/status/10515474130836520...

In this particular case, Google and other top tech companies tend not to fire employees for being too critical but still lack any sort of democratic control by their stakeholders (workers, community, etc). More on the matter: < https://newsyndicalist.org/2017/09/30/union-cooperative-stra... >


While it seems like people don't like the idea of this censored search engine called Dragonfly, I wonder what people think about Microsoft's Bing. Bing is definitely running a censored version in China, or it will not survive the government regulation.

Is Bing less bad than Dragonfly in terms of censorship? or is it also bad but engineers in Microsoft care little about that?


Google is the one that matters. Priorities.

Given infinite time and resources, by all means: pursue infinite objectives.

Given finite resources, sort in impact-priority order.

search engines aren’t like weeds


> [Sundar Pichai views] the censorship as a worthwhile trade-off to gain access to the country’s more than 800 million internet users

Citation needed.

Alternatively, Google's mission of "organizing the world's information" isn't quite complete if it continues not serving China.

Alternatively still, the real danger is not lost opportunity, but the emergence of a strong Chinese ecosystem (from network equipment all the way up to search and apps) that will steamroll Google's current Android-based hold onto the developing world.

Which would you rather believe, the CEO as a sellout who would do anything for a buck, or as a purist on a principled quest to be as useful as possible to mankind, or as a strategic leader aware of the risk of letting competition grow unchallenged?

Believe what you want about it, but neither is "news", just opinion.


Sundar has as much vision as a blindfolded mole. He is after the money, plain and simple.

Source: work at google, for ~8 years


Second that. I worked for 5 years there including directly with Sengupta (in charge of Dragonfly) and in passing with Pichai. Pichai was a politician who saw his mission in finding a balance between power groups, nothing more.


Elaborate? He's shown to be a solid leader with the consistent investments into AI and other products etc...


Objective observation: What do you call censorship in other countries? Legal obligations. What is the algorithmic effect of pushing something below the first fold? The same, but global. It is nonsensical to be outraged at one and calm regarding the other. The system powering the other has always been closed, deniable, safely distant from a legal perspective... and wields far more power globally than any government, answering to nobody.

Here in China, Baidu really is terrible ... a censored Google would be useful, but one may argue it sets a poor precedent. Unfortunately, AFAIK national censorship rules are an existing feature of all major search engines...


Love it when Americans make decisions for Chinese people and presume to know what they'd want. Maybe try asking them what they want. Or even just think about what you'd want if you lived in China. Living in China, you know your search engine will be censored. But still, wouldn't you want the best censored search engine that you can get?


> Love it when Americans make decisions for Chinese people and presume to know what they'd want.

This is a discussion about Google (an American company) employees talking about one of Google's projects (as directed by the American company's leadership), but it happens to be about a product for another country.

> Living in China, you know your search engine will be censored. But still, wouldn't you want the best censored search engine that you can get?

As many folks in China use VPNs to get around the Great Firewall, it seems like they would like an uncensored internet.


Oh certainly I think they're like an uncensored internet but unfortunately Google is not going to cause that to happen. Even with an uncensored Google you still wouldn't be able to access the links. It should also be said that while many Chinese do have VPN they are often pretty bad (SLOW!) and often break. They are also only used by more sophisticated users or enthusiastic users. Most people are too lazy to bother, cost is a consideration or they are not technical enough. I do give shout-out to Google for Outline VPN though. That is them actually doing something that is changing the game


I should note that I myself am not Chinese either, but I do live there and its not pleasant having to use Bing, etc.


Out of curiosity: Does Startpage work there?


nope, just tried it


Just because you don't like be censored, you'd rather deprive every Chinese's access to information of much much better quality. Yes, a few percent of searches will be censored, but the other 90+% of them are still miles better than Baidu's. Yet the righteous Google employees rather let people die of misinformation provided by Baidu(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Wei_Zexi). They'd rather see event like this happen everyday in China: https://www.ft.com/content/9be0b974-10e9-11e6-bb40-c30e3bfcf.... They'd rather let ordinary people comb through pages of thinly disguised ads to get to truly useful pages. They'd rather let good people be bombarded with false information by Baidu. They'd rather deny billions of people's access to vast number of educational videos on Youtube. Yeah, right, this is some people's version of justice.

Yup, political ideal certainly is more important than the quality life of billions of real, ordinary people.

What a bunch of hypocrites.


>but the other 90+% of them are still miles better than Baidu's

And you know this how, given that google hasn't operated in china for the last ten years?


https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/10/16/google-...

Okay, let's say you don't trust Google's number, then think about this: how many web pages are about politics that are sensitive to Chinese government, and how many web pages are about our everyday life?

Edit: oh you mean quality of Google search compared with Baidu's? Well, for one, Google does not use paid listing, and there are numerous reports that compare Google and Baidu's search quality.


Wow, this is the most insane argument I have ever heard for censored search by Google in China. Arguing that Google search is some moral good that Google has a moral obligation to bestow upon the Chinese people lest their “quality life [sic]” suffer is the most laughable claim I have heard this year.

It is reasonable to argue that Google either should or shouldn’t respect Chinese laws in this area. Your line of reasoning is just way off the mark.


You're right. It's reasonable to argue that Google should or shouldn't respect Chinese laws, and I never implies that Google has a moral obligation to Chinese people. I just want to point out the hypocrisy in the argument that Google is immoral to provide a censored search service in China when it's clear that Google's search service provides much better results than the Baidu.


Maybe this isn't what people want to hear, but there is no reason why Google should not work on some version of their search for China. Google is a huge company (one of the biggest in the world), and they need to diversify their risk by having such an endeavor in their pocket. It DOES NOT mean they need to release it, and it does not mean that even if they do, the version will look like the one they are working on right now.


Why would they? Google fears China is going to create their own version of Google and will lose access to the country and possibly more of Asia. They are going to try very hard to keep their foot in the door there.


> Google fears China is going to create their own version of Google and will lose access to the country

They already lost access to China nine years ago, and are now trying to get that access back.


>They already lost access to China nine years ago, and are now trying to get that access back.

Google withdrew from China on their own.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_China#Operation_Aurora_...

For 9 years they ignored one of the world's largest market's, and likely soon to be the world's largest market. They don't get nearly enough credit for that, entering china now isn't going to be easy, with Baidu having such a stronghold there today.

Perhaps they thought China would change, perhaps they decided the risk of Baidu becoming a threat is too great, who knows. But does anyone really think Google not entering China will change anything?

If everyone in the United States stopped buying made in China products tomorrow, that could cause a change. But the Chinese who don't have access to Google? They'll just continue using Baidu.


> Why would they?

Morals, perhaps.


Money will always trump morals with companies. It's not ideal but the truth.


If corporations are people, then laws are corporation's moral compass. The solution would likely be to produce regulations to provide a moral compass to corporations so that they are required to exhibit the behavior we would like them to have. Corporations are legal automatons, and need to be treated as such.

This doesn't necessarily mean we need more rules - we could easily improve regulation by creating rules with fewer, broader commands. Certainly, this would create some inefficiency, but it would be inefficiency on the commercial side, rather than the legislative one. (i.e. simpler, broader laws make certain commercial activities illegal when there might be nuanced reasons that they should be allowed, vs detailed and exhaustive regulations create more corporate opportunity but also more loopholes and regulatory surface area.)


This is pretty challenging for a multinational corporation operating in a globalized world.

The issue here is that Google is trying to produce a product that conforms to Chinese laws for doing business in China. These laws are deeply offensive and immoral to many people in Google's largely-American workforce.

Trying to create a moral compass that multinational corporations can live by requires creating laws that apply to everyone on earth. Personally, I think that's a great idea. Then the hard work is in finding a set of global laws that everyone can agree on, and that's the sticking point, because peoples' moral sensibilities on earth are largely contradictory.

Americans would be quick to say "Well, we should all operate under democracy - let the people decide what these laws should be", not realizing that if we actually did world democracy 1-person-1-vote style, the legal framework they would live under would likely be some weird amalgamation of the Chinese & Indian political systems, because close to 50% of the population lives in those countries. America would get about 5% of the vote, so it's a good bet that our wishes would be ignored. Personally, though I love the idea of world government in theory, I didn't sign up for those conditions. Given the general resistance to globalization by populist bodies in basically every nation on earth, most other people didn't either.


Doesn't this, in and of itself, tells you just how "multinational" Google really is?

There's no real issue with creating laws that apply to everybody here. Google is developing this thing in US. Therefore, American laws - and American cultural sensibilities - apply. If they don't want that, then they can do that development in China, by the workforce (and I mean executives in charge of the project as well as coders) that is subject to the same laws that they're working to implement.


I suspect that most of the staff who's actually developing the product are in China. The way things worked while I was at Google (which spanned the period when they pulled out, though I'd left by the time they decided to get back in) was that the bulk of development for google.cn would be done by Google China staff, and they would get some consulting support from engineers on critical serving infrastructure (eg. the webserver, the search serving stack) for parts where it needs to interface with the rest of the codebase.

The thing that's come back to bite Google now is that they have a culture of being very open internally. So for example, all the design docs, technical mailing lists, org chart, and source code repository for any work on Dragonfly is open to all Googlers. The article said that it's Googlers who do not work on Dragonfly that have been monitoring the source repository and leaked this to The Intercept; they may be American workers with American cultural sensibilities, but that doesn't mean that they're developing Dragonfly.

If this were Apple, they'd farm out all the human rights abuses to Foxconn [1], and the rest of their employees wouldn't know about it until it shows up in the press. I suspect the result of this is that anything Dragonfly-related is going to be designated HIP (High-value Intellectual Property, the category of source code where access is restricted to specific engineers) and all design discussions and mailing lists related to it will be locked down. That, IMHO, would suck for Google's culture, but I don't work there anymore so at least it doesn't affect me.

[1] https://nypost.com/2017/11/21/apple-has-been-using-teen-labo...


American companies have to follow American laws. If those laws are incompatible with China's then too bad, those companies can't make money in those exact ways. There's no need to fearmonger about a non-existant world government.


That gets complicated too. The way multinationals are usually setup - particularly with incompatible jurisdictions like US + China - is for a new company to be formed in the country they want to do business in, but with shares wholly owned by the parent. (In the case of China, they often need to partner with a domestic Chinese company that owns some of the shares - this is a sticking point in US/China trade relations, because it's commonly a front for industrial espionage.) Google China is not an American company; it is a Chinese company, headquartered in Beijing, that is partially owned by Google, which itself is owned by Alphabet.

If you want to block cross-border capital flows, you're looking at a lot of collateral damage. Apple, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nike, McDonald's, KFC, Altria (Phillip Morris), and many others would lose > 50% of their revenue if they could not do business through international subsidiaries that operate according to the laws of the country that they do business in. That's a lot of American jobs lost and a lot of underfunded pension plans.

The problem with a lot of "too bad - just close the borders and have American companies build things in America for Americans" is that it ignores that the 1950s utopia they want to go back to was itself built on globalization. America was the engine of the Marshall Plan, and basically rebuilt the world after WW2. That allowed Americans of the 50s-80s to enjoy standards of living well above what the domestic economy would support. If we actually wanted to shut ourselves off from the world, the resulting economy would likely look a lot more like the America of the 1850s (before steamships made crossing the ocean a routine occurrence) or the North Korea/Cuba/Iran of today (as examples of other countries that have isolated themselves from the world economy).


Except every government is trying to expand their law for internet.

Just see how many American company changed their website for GDPR

Your CEO won't want arrested in Thailand and extradite to China because their company in Europe violated a random law in China.


Google censors it’s results everywhere.

The main difference is in one instance it’s censoring itself + it’s censoring according to localized laws + some activist input (both right and left).

In China it’s basically also following laws to censor material plus doing some real-time censoring and removals.

So it could be argued it’s the kind of censorship that people disagree with rather than in principle being against it.


The only censorship I've noticed on Google is when there's a copyright takedown on a page of search results. And for those, Google gives you a link to the takedown request, which naturally gives you a nice list of all the URLs that were censored.

Does Google do other censorship that isn't noted in the search results? (particularly in the US?)


This is s short list of things Google censors[1]. Some are to comply with jurisdictional laws, others because they think it’s appropriate. There are also cases where while the content or index remains, it's demoted.

[1]https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_by_Google


Yes they censor porn


Like Baidu? I know there's also a Youtube equivalent.

This ship has long sailed I'm afraid.


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