Google+ China= No Human Rights?: Google’s plan to expand into China is criticised over human rights issues

February 7, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Google’s plan to expand into China has drawn criticism from a former executive, who says the tech giant is not doing enough to implement a coherent human rights policy.

What does this mean?

Former employee Ross LaJeunesse has accused Google of sidelining attempts to introduce a human rights policy, amidst its planned expansion into China. Google’s previous plan to develop a censored search engine in China, known as the “Dragonfly” program, was dropped in July 2019. The program would have seen extensive censorship of search queries in accordance with Chinese government policy. The engine would have censored terms such as “student protest”. At the time, Mr LaJeunesse flagged his concern for the rights of Chinese citizens to access information. However, senior executives kept coming up with excuses for not implementing a human rights policy. Despite not going ahead with the program, Google still plans to enter the Chinese and Saudi Arabian market.

What's the big picture effect?

Google’s conditional expansion into China, specifically that it yields to government demands of surveillance and censorship, highlights two points. Firstly, it shows the increasingly insular attitude of tech giants towards external regulation. By allowing Google and other companies to operate according to their own policies and agendas, governments have created a tech culture resistant to outside criticism. When senior executives were questioned about the effect the Dragonfly program could have on human rights activism, the response was “human rights organisations don’t know anything. They don’t work at the company, so we don’t listen to them”.

This leads to the second point; the indifference of senior executives illustrates the difference between government regulation and “self-regulation”. Governments have allowed tech companies to draft their own codes of conduct and policies, instead of enforcing laws which will protect users. The libertarianism which has often been cited as the driving force of Google and other such companies needs to be tempered by government regulation. 

Essentially, it is necessary for governments to enforce firmer laws, or risk creating an even wider gap between the law and company policy. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has voiced his support for greater regulation of tech companies, stating that the influence of these companies makes it imperative for governments to introduce tighter regulation on data collection and privacy. As for now, it remains unclear how smooth Google’s planned expansion into China will be.

Report written by Sofija Belajcic

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