Google found itself probed by members of the House Judiciary committee yesterday, as the US government attempted to understand reported efforts to re-enter the Chinese market. CEO Sundar Pichai told the panel that the company had “no plans” at this time to relaunch its search engine after its removal in 2010, yet continuously tiptoed around dismissing the idea entirely.
Aside from cyber-attacks originating from China, the primary reason Google pulled out of the Chinese market was due to mounting pressure from the country’s government to censor its search results. Reports of Project Dragonfly emerged earlier this year, doubling back on this stance with a catered search engine being developed specifically for China.
“Right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China,” Pichai told Congress, who questioned how this wouldn’t contradict Google’s core values. “We are, in general, always looking to see how best — it’s part of our core mission and our principles — to try hard to provide users with information.
“We always have evidence, based on every country we’ve operated in, us reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact. And we feel that calling but right now there are no plans to launch in China. To the extent that we ever approach a position like that I will be fully transparent, including with policymakers here. And engage and consult widely,” continued Pichai.
Regardless, effort is still under way on Project Dragonfly and Pichai is reluctant to shut the door on development. When asked whether he would use his leadership to “avoid launching a tool of censorship and surveillance in China,” Pichai simply responded that he “commits to engaging.”
“One of the things which is important to us as a company, we have a stated mission of providing users with information, and so we always — we think it’s in our duty to explore possibilities. To give users access to information… I have that commitment but as I said earlier on this we’ll be very thoughtful and we will engage widely as we make progress,” explains the CEO.
Fortunately, Pichai assured the panel that it was not actively cooperating with the Chinese government on the project, as work is “currently an internal effort” conducted by Google’s “search teams,” which had at one point consisted of over 100 employees. The use of the word “currently” is reiterated, still leaving things open for collaboration in the future.
Congressman David Cicilline stated that US-based companies must “reassert American moral leadership” among the “rising authoritarianism around the world when more leaders are using surveillance, censorship and repression against their own people.” That being said, Google’s Project Dragonfly has been “underway for a while” and would add revenue from a market of a seemingly unmentioned 1.4 billion people.
KitGuru Says: Given that Google’s latest AI principles involve avoiding the creation and reinforcement of unfair bias, among others, it remains to be seen how Google can uphold its morals while still accessing the sizeable market. How do you feel about Google China's catered search engine?