The Intercept reported that there was agreement among staff that the project, codenamed Dragonfly, raised "urgent moral and ethical issues" and had circulated a letter to this effect.
Subsequently, there were reports that managers at Google were trying to shut down access to any material connected to the project. Another report said that engineers had used search queries from a Chinese Web directory service owned by the company to develop blacklists for the censored search engine.
It claims the China project goes against an internal ethical code about Google's artificial intelligence that specifies the company will not create or deploy technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights".
GOOGLE MOTTOS: A HISTORY— MGK Hockey 1234 (@mightygodking) 28 March 2018
1999: Don't Be Evil
2003: Try Your Hardest To Not Be Evil
2008: Make A Reasonable Effort To Avoid Being Evil
2013: What Is Evil, Really, When You Get Down To It, I Mean Really
2018: *just a series of high-pitched giggles*
“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment," the letter says.
"That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough.
"We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”
The project was apparently kicked off after a meeting between Google chief executive Sundar Pichai and Wang Huning, a senior figure in the Chinese Communist Party, last December. Work on the search app was begun during the Western spring of 2017 and had been fast-tracked after the Pichai-Huning meeting.
Following the meeting with Huning, Google decided to open an artificial intelligence research centre in Beijing. In May 2018, a Google file management app was released for Chinese Internet users. And in July, Google released a “Guess The Sketch” game on WeChat, the main Chinese messaging and social media platform.
Google appears to be carrying out the development of the censored search engine along with a second firm, presumably one in China, as Chinese law requires that Internet services companies need to run their servers and date centres within the country.