Protest outside Google office in London puts pressure on Google executives to end controversial Project Dragonfly

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January 18, 2019

To mark Internet Freedom Day, Tibetans, Tibet supporters and corporate campaigners gathered outside Google’s King’s Cross office in London this afternoon, calling on the company to scrap its controversial plans to develop a censored search engine in China, Project Dragonfly.

The gathering was made up of representatives from Tibet groups including Free Tibet, International Tibet Network, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibet Society and the Tibetan Community in Britain (1), along with consumer group SumOfUs (2). It was part of a wider campaign by these groups to urge Google executives to officially close Project Dragonfly, which, if it goes ahead, would see the tech company create a search engine that complies with the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s tight internet censorship laws and would facilitate state surveillance in China by linking users’ search history with their telephone numbers.

Those present at Google’s office carried placards and balloons demanding the company stand up to censorship rather than comply with it. Some protestors carried signs which read: “Stop Google Censorship”, while other placards listed the search terms that would be blocked by the new search engine, including ‘Dalai Lama’, ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’, ‘peaceful protest’ and ‘Tibet’.

During the gathering, the organisers handed out leaflets to and spoke  about the dangers of the project with members of Google’s staff, some of whom were supportive and confirmed that Project Dragonfly was still a matter of concern to Google employees.

“It’s quite a big topic. It’s a big topic inside as well,” said a Google employee who wanted to remain anonymous.

“It’s a good cause. Keep going,” said another anonymous employee who works in the Google HQ building.

Towards the end of the gathering, the organisation’s Communications Manager came down to accept a letter from the group, which outlined their opposition to Project Dragonfly.

There has been significant opposition to Project Dragonfly from within Google. Thousands of staff members have circulated letters expressing their concerns, leaked information to the press and in some cases resigned in protest.

John Jones, Campaigns and Communications Manager at Free Tibet said:

The activities around the world today have clearly demonstrated the opposition to Project Dragonfly from Tibet and, Uyghurs, human rights defenders and even many of Google’s own staff. The people who turned out today know as well as anyone how the Chinese government under Xi Jinping has heightened the repression, the state intrusion and the surveillance, on the streets and online. They know that this is not the time for Google to be working with this regime and effectively helping it carry out its human rights abuses. Google’s executives should heed their words and announce that the project has been scrapped”.

Sondhya Gupta, Senior Campaigner at SumOfUs, said:

“It’s just not good enough for Google to dismiss its collusion with repressive regimes as a ‘limited internal effort’ — as today’s global protests make clear. Google continues to collect and profit from the data of its millions of users, so today those users are joining together with Google employees, shareholders and those communities most impacted by the company’s belief that technology is neutral, to hold it to account. Project dragonfly would normalise tech giants’ complicity in human rights abuses: Google must cancel it immediately."

Gloria Montgomery, Director at Tibet Society, said:

“Our conversations with Google employees in London today reinforced just how many of its staff members vehemently oppose Project Dragonfly. The growing voice of opposition within Google itself and the tens of thousands of global citizens standing up to the company’s censorship efforts simply cannot be ignored. Google’s executives must urgently listen to its employees’ concerns and cancel the project or they risk facilitating the Chinese authorities’ relentless crackdown on freedom of expression.”

Today will see at least 12 actions take place outside Google’s offices in 10 countries, across 5 continents, as UK organisers join forces with those  in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile and the United States, where a gathering at Google’s San Francisco headquarters is expected.

The wider campaign has seen over 54,000 people signing a petition addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, calling on him to halt Project Dragonfly and commit the company to a free and open Internet (3).

Dorjee Tseten, Students for a Free Tibet, said:

“We strongly urge Google to immediately drop Project Dragonfly. Google must uphold this principle and cannot make the profit from the Chinese government’s brutal human right abuses and support China’s infrastructure of oppression. Freedom of expression, online and offline, is virtually non-existent in Tibet and this action of Google will further lead into arresting or imprisoning people simply for expressing their views online which make the company complicit in human rights violations.”