"We are the good guys" — America's top general said this week while arguing Google should work directly with the Pentagon instead of making controversial inroads into China, bringing the US tech giant into increasing closeness with Beijing.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a speaking engagement Thursday that it was "inexplicable" that Google would seek out business in a country with vastly less freedoms than the United States.
We are the good guys and it’s inexplicable to me that we would make compromises in order to advance our business interests in China where we know that freedoms are restrained, where we know that China will take intellectual property from companies.
Gen. Dunford's words come at a time when Google has actually pulled out of prior Defense Department projects, including failing to renew a contract which helps the military analyze aerial drone imagery. The defense program, called Project Maven, set off controversy inside Google's ranks as employees refused to develop programs related to warfare and battlefield applications, citing ethical concerns.
Over 3100 employees had signed a petition demanding that Google leave the Pentagon partnership, which further included a number of employees resigning over the issue. Google then announced it would not continue Project Maven in June in an attempt to quell the internal dissent over the deal.
Separately, Google announced earlier this year that it would not bid on a a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the DoD, citing the company's "new ethical guidelines" which bans weapons projects and provides ethical limitations for work on military A.I. And yet Google continues to work on internet tools that would allow China's Communist government to censor and crackdown on its citizens' online speech even while finding Pentagon related contracts too controversial.
In September The Intercept confirmed through its bombshell report based on internal Google whistle-blower testimony that the internet giant has long been working on a secretive search engine project for China with censorship capabilities built into it, which provides a backdoor monitoring platform allowing government authorities to track users' entire search history and even their location. The revelation of the search engine, code-named "Dragonfly," has caused a public outcry and rare media scrutiny.
Gen. Dunford noted this in his Thursday speech, saying, “I’m not sure that people at Google will enjoy a world order that is informed by the norms and standards of Russia or China.” Notably, he didn't mention any other tech companies by name during his talk.
And on Friday Congressional leaders weighed in after Sundar Pichai, Google chief executive officer, met with Washington officials this week, including a stop at the White House on Thursday.
In remarks at an event hosted by the Center for New American Security in Washington D.C. on Friday, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) slammed Project Dragonfly as yet more proof that China has made "successful efforts to recruit Western companies to their information control efforts."
He said, "It's pretty amazing to me that Google is actually looking to work with China to develop a censored version of its search engine in China." Sen. Warner added further:
Today China's cyber and censorship infrastructure is the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world. China is now exporting both its technology and its cyber-sovereignty doctrine to countries like Venezuela, Ethiopia, and Pakistan.
The implication behind Warner's attack is that Google — which advanced its "Don't Be Evil" motto as its core code of conduct (and then quietly dropped it) — would ultimately be helping authoritarian regimes around the world with the proliferation of censorship and domestic spying technology by partnering with Beijing.
In recent statements Google sought to downplay the project as "exploratory," saying that "no decision has been made about whether we could or would launch," in an end of November media release.
We wonder, do Google's "ethical guidelines" only stop with the Pentagon? Is "don't be evil" only a domestic concern for the company?