Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google China Prototype Links Searches to Phone Numbers

Ryan Gallagher, the Intercept:

Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.

[…]

Sources familiar with Dragonfly said the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing. The Chinese government has a record of manipulating details about pollution in the country’s cities. One Google source said the company had built a system, integrated as part of Dragonfly, that was “essentially hardcoded to force their [Chinese-provided] data.” The source raised concerns that the Dragonfly search system would be providing false pollution data that downplayed the amount of toxins in the air.

If this reporting is correct, there’s simply no other way to cut this: Google is exploring a deeper entry into the Chinese market by agreeing to assist in that government’s oppression and misinformation. I wonder how Google will respond the first time a report is released that implicates them in the imprisonment of an activist or a journalist in China, especially as it’s completely incongruous with their publicly-stated positions. It’s not a perfect comparison, but do you remember how “outraged” they were after reporting in the Washington Post implied that the NSA had a backdoor into their infrastructure? They responded by increasing their use of encryption within their own network over time.

Instead of fighting government surveillance, Google is apparently trying to be of assistance, and they’re dragging their employees into this mess. How many Google employees want to have such a toxic product on their resume? Apparently, several staffers, including senior engineers, have decided that this is too much to bear, and have consequently quit.

China is, of course, an enormous potential market for Google. By not being there, they’re leaving potentially billions of dollars of revenue on the table. However, they would also not be complicit in human rights abuses. How much is that worth? For a company with strict values and some semblance of ethics and morals, it should be a no-brainer.