Google’s highly controversial “Dragonfly” project, exploring the possibility of providing Chinese-government censored and controlled search to China, is back in the news — with continuing protests by concerned Google employees, including public letters and other actions.
I have previously explained my opposition to this project and my solidarity with these Googlers, in posts such as: “Google Admits It Has Chinese Censorship Search Plans – What This Means” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/08/17/google-admits-it-has-chinese-censorship-search-plans-what-this-means) and other related essays.
There are a multitude of reasons to be skeptical about this project, ranging from philosophical to emotional to economic. Basic issues relating to freedom of speech and individual rights come into play when dealing with an absolute dictatorship that sends people to “reeducation” camps where they are tortured merely for having the “wrong” religions, or where making an “inappropriate” comment on the tightly-controlled Chinese Internet can result in authorities dragging you away to secret prisons.
There is also ample evidence to suggest that if Google proceeds to provide such search services in China, they will be mercilessly attacked by politicians from both sides of the aisle, many of whom already are in the ranks of the Google Haters.
But for the moment, let’s attempt to set such horrors and the politics aside, and look at Dragonfly in the cold, hard logic of available data. Google famously considers itself to be a “data-driven” company. Does the available data suggest that Dragonfly would be practical for Google to implement and operate going forward?
The answer is clearly negative.
Philosopher George Santayana’s notable assertion that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is basically another way of saying “If you ignore the data staring you in the face, don’t be surprised when you get screwed.”
And the data regarding the probability of getting burned, screwed, or otherwise bulldozed by China is plentiful.
Google of course has plenty of specific data in hand about this. They tried providing censored search to China around a decade ago. The result was (as many of us predicated at the time) ever-increasing demands for more censorship and more control from the Chinese government, and then a series of Chinese-based hack attacks against Google itself, causing Google to correctly pull the plug on that project.
Fast forward to today, and Google management seems to be asserting that somehow THIS time it will all be different and work out just fine. Is there any data to suggest that this view is accurate?
Again, the answer is clearly no. In fact, vast evidence suggests exactly the opposite.
The optimistic assertions of Dragonfly proponents might have a modicum of validity if there were any evidence that China has been moving in a positive direction relating to speech and other human rights (in either or both of the technological and non-technological realms) in the years since Google’s original attempt to provide censored Chinese search.
But the data regarding China’s behavior over this period clearly demonstrates China moving in precisely the contrary direction!
China has used this time not to improve the human rights of its people, but to massively tighten its grip and to escalate its abuses in nightmarish ways. And especially to the point of this discussion, China’s ever more dictatorially monitored and controlled Internet has become a key tool in the government’s campaign of terror.
China has turned the democratic ideals of the Internet’s founders on their heads, and have morphed their own Internet into a bloody bludgeon to use against its own people, and even against Chinese persons living outside of China.
The reality of course is that China is an economic powerhouse — the West has already sold its economic soul to China to a major degree. There is no reversing that in the foreseeable future. Neither threats nor tariffs will make a real difference.
But we still do have some free choice when it comes to China.
And one specific choice — a righteous and honorable choice indeed — is to NOT get into bed with the Chinese dictators’ Internet control and censorship regime.
Giving the Chinese government dictators any control over Google search results would be effectively tantamount to embracing their horrific abuses — PR releases to the contrary notwithstanding.
The data — the history — teaches us clearly that there is no “just dipping your toe into the water” when it comes to collaboration with unrepentant, dictatorial regimes in the process of extending and accelerating their abuses, as is the case with China. You will not be able to make China behave any “better” through your actions. But you will inevitably be ultimately dragged body and soul into their putrid deeps.
The data is obvious. The data is devastating.
Google should immediately end its dance with China over Chinese censored search. Dragonfly and any similar projects should be put out of their miseries for good and all.