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Google’s reported plans to launch a censored search engine app in China would represent an alarming capitulation on human rights, and could have devastating consequences in a country where people are routinely persecuted for expressing their views, Amnesty International and other human rights groups said today.

In an open letter to Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, published on Tuesday, Amnesty International and 13 other human rights groups are calling on Google to answer basic questions about an app, known internally as “Project Dragonfly”, which would block certain websites and search terms to fit with Chinese state censorship rules. Details of the app were published by The Intercept on 1 August, but Google has so far failed to respond publicly. 

“The Chinese government runs one of the world’s most repressive internet censorship and surveillance regimes. It is simply not acceptable for Google’s senior executives to keep quiet when the company is reported to be considering actively participating in the violations of the rights to freedom of expression and privacy for millions of people in China,” said Anna Bacciarelli, Technology & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

“In 2010 Google withdrew from China citing restrictions on freedom of expression. Since then the Chinese government has tightened its stranglehold on internet freedom, but Google seems to have U-turned on its principles. Is Sundar Pichai prepared to reaffirm Google’s past commitments not to introduce censored search? Or is he going to capitulate and accommodate human rights abuses in order to gain access to the Chinese market?” 

In the open letter the NGOs call on Google to:

  • Reaffirm the company’s 2010 commitment not to provide censored search engine services in China; 
  • Disclose its position on censorship in China and what steps, if any, Google is taking to safeguard against human rights violations linked to Project Dragonfly and its other Chinese mobile app offerings;
  • Guarantee protections for whistle-blowers and other employees speaking out where they see the company is failing its commitments to human rights.