Open Letter to Google

Sundar_Pichai.0.jpg

 

Dear Mr Pichai,

cc Larry Page, Sergey Brin

We are writing to express our strong concerns about reports that Google is currently developing a search engine app that will comply fully with China’s severe and repressive censorship methods. The Intercept report on 1 August, [1] based on leaked “Google confidential” documents, revealed that a new censorship app, codenamed ‘Dragonfly’, is being developed to automatically identify and filter ‘blacklisted’ websites blocked by China’s Great Firewall as well as banned search terms pertaining to human rights, Tibet, Tiananmen, democracy and the Dalai Lama.

If Google were to proceed with launching this app in China, it would constitute a dramatic shift in policy and a complete turn-around from past positions taken by the company concerning freedom of speech, human rights, extreme censorship, and cyber-security. Following Google’s withdrawal from China in 2010, as a result of a hacking scandal and the company’s commendable refusal to self-censor, Google reiterated its commitment to a free and open web, stating “we don’t want to engage in political censorship”, adding that government restrictions “not only strike at the heart of an open Internet but also violate Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. [2]

It is now highly alarming to find that Google, whose mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’, is considering submitting to China’s repressive policies that profoundly restrict freedom of information and promote distorted factual information. There is little doubt that ‘Dragonfly’ would have an immense negative impact on the human rights of Chinese citizens, Tibetans, Uyghurs and other nationalities who, like all global citizens, deserve an undivided internet and free access to information. The very existence of this project signals a failure to serve those for whom Google was designed, as well as a failure to engage with civil society organisations and many world governments, who have consistently raised concerns over the risks posed by technologies, if harnessed for detrimental ends.

Our concerns are clearly shared by many Google employees, and your reported comments at a recent staff meeting – where you are quoted as saying “I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don’t see any reason why that would be different in China”, and that plans were “exploratory” and in “early stages” – are not reassuring. [3]

We are at a critical moment. Calls for Google to withdraw from Project Maven as well as the Cambridge Analytica scandal highlight the growing public concern over the ability of tech companies to undermine our rights and freedoms. IT companies such as Google should be at the forefront of challenging repressive regimes that use censorship to control society and must stand in support of connecting the world through information.

While Google may have hoped that it would eventually be able to return to a friendlier and more democratic China, the reverse is true: human rights have significantly deteriorated, and Tibet is described by Freedom House as the second “worst of the worst”, with only Syria less free. [4] Google’s development of ‘Dragonfly’ appears instead to legitimise the repressive regime of the Chinese government and support the limiting of civil and political freedoms and promoting distorted information. Google would not purely be ‘respecting’ national laws if ‘Dragonfly’ launched in China; it would be actively implementing them.

Recognising Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to the company’s global reputation, we request that you:

  • Immediately cancel the ‘Dragonfly’ project.
  • Draft, publicise and enforce a clear policy stating that Google will not assist states in their censorship efforts by undermining freedom of speech and human rights.

We request the opportunity to meet with you and other Google representatives to discuss our serious concerns and to answer a number of questions we have regarding the due diligence taken by Google prior to deciding to develop ‘Dragonfly’ in coordination with China’s government, and Google’s views on how this new development complies with the Global Network Initiative, [5] of which Google is a participant. We are also aware that many Google employees are members of the Association of Computing Machinery, the code of ethics of which states that: “computing professionals should take action to avoid creating systems or technologies that disenfranchise or oppress people”, and “use their skills for the benefit of society.” This includes “promoting fundamental human rights and protecting each individual’s right to autonomy.” [6] Two Google sources told The Intercept [7] that they felt the Dragonfly project clearly violated the ACM’s code of ethics, which has led them to support the protests inside the company against the planned China censorship.

We look forward to hearing from you and for the opportunity to have a constructive dialogue with your company.

Yours sincerely,

Alison Reynolds, Executive Director, International Tibet Network, on behalf of the Tibet Network Member Groups listed overleaf.

Notes

  1. https://theintercept.com/2018/08/01/google-china-search-engine-censorship/
  2. https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/controversial-content-and-free.html
  3. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-17/google-ceo-is-said-to-tell-staff-china-plans-are-exploratory
  4. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018
  5. “Participating companies will respect and work to protect the freedom of expression of their users by seeking to avoid or minimize the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression, including restrictions on the information available to users and the opportunities for users to create and communicate ideas and information, regardless of frontiers or media of communication.”
  6. https://ethics.acm.org/
  7. See 1.

Tibet Network Member Groups signing…

Western Europe:

Aide aux Refugies Tibetains

Association Dorje

Association Drôme Ardèche-Tibet

Associazione Italia-Tibet

Autodétermination-Tibet 09/31

Briancon05 Urgence Tibet

Caisse d’Aide aux Prisonniers Tibetains

Casa del Tibet – Spain

Comite de Apoyo al Tibet (CAT)

Comite de Soutien au Peuple Tibetain (Les Lilas)

Corse – Tibet

Eco-Tibet France

EcoTibet Ireland

France-Tibet

Groupe Non-Violent Louis Lecoin, France

Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete, Portugal

International Campaign for Tibet Europe; Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin

International Society of Human Rights, Munich Chapter (IGFM)

Jamtse Thundel Association

La Porte du Tibet, Geneva

Les Amis du Tibet – Belgium

Les Amis du Tibet Luxembourg

Lions Des Neiges Mont Blanc, France

Lungta Association Belgium

Maison des Himalayas

Maison du Tibet – Tibet Info

Nos Amis de l’Himalaya

Objectif Tibet

Passeport Tibetain

Phagma Drolma-Arya Tara

Reseau International des Femmes pour le Tibet

Save Tibet, Austria

Society for Threatened Peoples International

Students for a Free Tibet – France

Students for a Free Tibet – UK

Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association (GSTF)

Tibet 59 / 62

Tibet Democratie

Tibet Initiative Deutschland

Tibets Kinder im Exile V.

Tibet Liberte Solidarite

Tibet Libertes, France

Tibet Society, U.K.

Tibet Support Group – Ireland

Tibet Support Group – Netherlands

Tibet Unterstutzung Liechtenstein

Tibetaanse-Vlaamse Vriendenkring vzw

Tibetan Association of Germany

Tibetan Community Austria

Tibetan Community in Britain

Tibetan Community in Ireland

Tibetan Community of Italy

Tibetan Youth Association in Europe

TSG Free Tibet And You

Tsowa-Maintenir la Vie, France

Northern Europe:

Association of Free Tibet Denmark

Friends of Tibet in Finland

Swedish Tibet Committee

The Norwegian Tibet Committee

Tibet Support Committee Denmark

Tibetan Community in Denmark

Tibetan Community Sweden

Students for a Free Tibet Denmark

Central & Eastern Europe:

Fair Society o.s.

Friends of Tibet Society St. Petersburg, Russia

International Youth Human Rights Group – Human Rights in Tibet

Polish Movement for a Free Tibet

Save Tibet Foundation

Society for Croatia-Tibet Friendship

Students for a Free Tibet, Poland

The Foundation for Civil Society, Russia

Tibet cesky (Tibet in Czech)

Tibet Support Association – Hungary

Tibet Support Group – Krasnodar Region, Russia

Tibet Support Group – Romania

Tibet Support Group – Sochi Region, Russia

Tibetan Association of Slovakia

Tibetan Community in Poland

Tibetan Programme of The Other Space Foundation

TSG – Slovenia/Podporo

Union Latvija Tibetai

Zida Cels, Latvia

Africa and Middle East:

Israeli Friends of the Tibetan People

Tibet Support Group Kenya

North America:

Association Cognizance Tibet, North Carolina

Bay Area Friends of Tibet

Boston Tibet Network

Canada Tibet Committee

Colorado Friends of Tibet

Committee of 100 for Tibet

Dhokam Chushi Gangdruk

International Campaign for Tibet

International Tibet Independence Movement

Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association

San Diego Friends of Tibet

Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet

Sierra Friends of Tibet

Students for a Free Tibet

Students for a Free Tibet – Canada

The Tibetan Alliance of Chicago

The World Tibet Day Foundation

Tibet Committee of Fairbanks

Tibet Justice Center

Tibetan Association of Ithaca

Tibetan Association of Northern California

Tibetan Association of Philadephia

Tibetan Association of Santa Fe

Tibetan Association of Southern California

Tibetan Cultural Association – Quebec

TIBETmichigan

Toronto Tibet Youth Congress

United Nations for a Free Tibet (UNFFT)

U.S. Tibet Committee

Western Colorado Friends of Tibet

Wisconsin Tibetan Association

Central and South America:

Amigos de Tíbet Chile

Amigos del Tíbet, El Salvador

Asociación Cultural Peruano Tibetana

Asociación Cultural Tibetano – Costarricense

Casa Tibet México

Centro De Cultura Tibetana – Brazil

Grupo Pro-Cultura Tibetana, Chile

Le Club Francais – Paraguay

Tibet Group-Panama

Tíbet Mx

Tíbet Patria Libre, Uruguay

Fundación Pro Tibet – Argentina

Friends of Tibet in Costa Rica

World League for Freedom and Democracy

Asia:

Anterrashtriya Bharat – Tibbet Sahyog Samiti

Bharrat Tibbat Sahyog Manch, India

Circle of Friends (Philippines)

Core Group for Tibetan Cause, India

Foundation for Universal Responsibility of H. H. the Dalai Lama

Gannasamannay

Himalayan Committee for Action on Tibet

India Tibet Friendship Society

Japan Association of Monks for Tibet (Super Sangha)

Japan Committee of 100 for TIbet

Lung-Ta Project

Mahatma Gandhi Tibet Freedom Movement

National Campaign for Tibetan Support, India

National Democratic Party of Tibet

Ns3 Rigpa Community Builder’s Foundation

Raise Tibetan Flag Campaign

Roof of the World Foundation, Indonesia

Students for a Free Tibet – Japan

Students for a Free Tibet – India

Students for a Free Tibet – Bangladesh

Taiwan Friends of Tibet

Taiwan Tibet Exchange Foundation

Tibbat Desh Patrika

Tibet Lives, India

Tibet Solidarity Forum, Bangladesh

Tibet Support Group Kiku, Japan

Tibet Support Network Japan

Tibetan Student Association, Madras (TSAM)

Tibetan Rights and Freedom Committee (TRFRC)

Tibetan Women’s Association (Central)

Tibetan Youth Congress

Youth Liberation Front of Tibet, Eastern Turkestan, Manchuria & Inner Mongolia (YLFTM)

Australasia:

A.C.T. Tibet Support Group

Australia Tibet Council

Australian Tibet House Inc.

Friends of Tibet New Zealand

Sakya Trinley Ling

Students for a Free Tibet – New Zealand

Tibet Action Group of Western Australia

Tibet Support Group Adelaide – Australia

Tibetan Community of Australia (Victoria)

Tibetan Women Association and Friends Australia (TWAFA)

Alison Reynolds

Executive Director

International Tibet Network

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