Sentiments against Google’s controversial Project Dragonfly have been growing, as just this past week employees of the company have come out with an open letter demanding the project be halted. For those not in the know, Project Dragonfly is an attempt by the search engine giant to gain a foothold in the closed-off Chinese market. Google wants to provide a censored search engine, one that cooperates with the Chinese government to disallow sensitive sources or topics from appearing on searches.
Hundreds of Google employees have joined human rights groups like Amnesty International, international lawmakers, and people with common sense in opposing the project. As a counterpoint, many in China itself approve of such a change. Currently, China’s big search engine (and the second largest in the world) is Baidu, but its results are often criticized for being inaccurate and commercialized. Those in favor of Google coming to China have hope that it will bring at least marginal improvements, even if it still must censor results.
And indeed, this is what proponents of Project Dragonfly (including Google) choose to believe. Having a company with western values and ties is better than completely separating the Chinese and western internets, even if there are still limits on what China allows. Of course, Google’s product will not be perfect, but with the company’s western standards and more global commitments, they will surely have to be better than the alternative.
However, this viewpoint falls into the same trap that the entire Republican party has fallen into: it assumes companies are moral. Google is not moral. Google doesn’t owe anything to America, China or the world beyond what will ensure it the largest profits.
There is clear evidence of this behavior. When Google was just starting out, its corporate values included the simple phrase “Don’t be evil.” According to its creator, the phrase was chosen as something that, “once you put it in there, would be hard to take out.” The motto was then part of their code of conduct for almost two decades until May 2018, when it was mysteriously removed. Of course, societal and company values are sure to change in 20 years’ time, but not so much that not being evil is suddenly not a concern. Sure enough, Google has revoked that motto in action, too.
The point is, Google is not going to be the western foothold in China that some may want it to be. The company would just as easily bend at the knee to China if it paid out more to shareholders. The scary thing is, with their movement forward of Project Dragonfly, that seems to be exactly the case. Google clearly thinks the profits they have to gain in China are more important than their previous values and the goodwill of the western world. The depressing part is that, for all of the complaints that Google employees and the public have for ventures like Project Dragonfly, it will still go through. As long as we prioritize profits over morality, companies like Google will make their decisions through that lens.
By choosing to go forward with Project Dragonfly, Google also aligns itself with censorship as the way of the future. Sure, for now, the censored search engine is just for China, but there is nothing stopping Google from offering the same service to other regimes around the world, once it’s developed. If the company thought freedom of speech would prevail, they could simply wait for the censors of the world to fail and disappear, but that is not the case. The most harrowing part of Project Dragonfly’s news, then, is not what it spells for Google as a company or China as a country, it’s what Google believes it means for freedom as a global value.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.