A former Google China exec says the company’s plan to build a censored search engine in the country is likely a violation of human rights

A former Google China exec says the company's plan to build a censored search engine in the country is likely a violation of human rights


Greg Sandoval/Business InsiderGoogle fans from China hold up their nation’s flag at the I/O developer conference in 2018.
  • A former Google exec who worked in China has called Google’s plan to build a censored search engine “stupid.”
  • Lokman Tsui, head of free expression for Asia, said he couldn’t think of a scenario by which such a search engine didn’t violate human-rights standards.
  • Tsui said that Google no longer employs anyone with his former title, which was “head of free expression.”

Lokman Tsui didn’t mince words.

The Intercept on Friday published an interview with Tsui, Google’s former head of free expression for Asia and the Pacific until 2014. The former Googler characterized Google’s plan to build a censored search engine that complied with the demands of the Chinese government as “stupid.”

Tsui also suggested that such a search engine would likely violate human-rights standards.

He was responding to the news last week that Google was building a search engine that would filter out search terms and web sites that the government of the People’s Republic of China finds objectionable. Since then, Google has faced criticism from politicians, users and even its own employees.

“In these past few years things have been deteriorating so badly in China – you cannot be there without compromising yourself,” Tsui told The Intercept.

He added that a censored search engine in the China “would be a moral victory for Beijing…(which) has nothing to lose. So if Google wants to go back it would be under the terms and conditions that Beijing would lay out for them. I can’t see how Google would be able to negotiate any kind of a deal that would be positive. I can’t see a way to operate Google search in China without violating widely-held international human rights standards.”

Google representatives did not immediately respond to questions about Tsui’s comments.

A censored search platform represents a dramatic change of heart for Google, as the company pulled out of China in 2010 rather than help the Chinese government censor information.

This year, Google’s managers have invited scrutiny into how committed they are to their long-stated values. The controversy over the proposed Chinese search engine comes after many Google employees protested the company’s involvement in a military program, known as Project Maven.

Under Maven, Google provided artificial intelligence technology to help the Pentagon analyze video footage taken from drones. Employees as well as scholars and AI experts called for Google to end the relationship and pledge never to build AI-enhanced weapons. Management responded by publishing a list of AI principles that would government the company’s future use of the technology and did promise never to build AI weapons.

Meanwhile, managers made a symbolic gesture earlier this year that might have hinted that they are, at minimum, re-evaluating some past ethical stances. The phrase that was supposed to be Google’s main moral guidepost, “Don’t be evil,” was removed from the preface of the company’s code of conduct and dropped to the bottom of the page.

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