John Hennessy, the chair of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., was recently asked whether Google providing a search engine in China that censored results would provide a net benefit for Chinese users. “I don’t know the answer to that. I think it’s — I think it’s a legitimate question,” he responded. “Anybody who does business in China compromises some of their core values. Every single company, because the laws in China are quite a bit different than they are in our own country.”
Hennessy’s remarks were in relation to Project Dragonfly, a once-secret project within Google to build a version of its search engine that meets the demands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party — namely, that Google proactively censor “sensitive” speech and comply with China’s data provenance and surveillance laws.
I worked as a research scientist at Google when Dragonfly was revealed — including to most Google employees — and resigned in protest after a month of internally fighting for clarification. That’s part of why I object to this constant drift of conversations about Dragonfly from concrete, indefensible details toward the vague language of difficult compromise.