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Google employees are protesting its efforts to re-enter the Chinese market.


Claudia Cruz/CNET

Google employees unhappy with the search giant’s efforts to re-enter China are resigning in protest, according to news reports published Thursday.

The company has been under intense scrutiny since The Intercept reported last month on Google’s plans to build a censored search engine for China, eight years after initially retreating from the country. At the time of the departure, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who grew up in the Soviet Union, cited the “totalitarianism” of Chinese policies.

The new search project, reportedly codenamed Dragonfly, has also drawn criticism from Google’s workforce. About 1,000 employees signed an open letter asking the company to be transparent about the project and to create an ethical review process for it that includes rank-and-file employees, not just high-level executives.

Now, some employees appear to be going to the next level by leaving the company altogether. That includes Jack Poulson, a senior research scientist who worked at Google for more than two years, according to articles by The Intercept and BuzzFeed. He was previously an assistant mathematics professor at Stanford, according to his LinkedIn profile, and tendered his resignation from Google on Aug. 31.

At least six other employees have also resigned over Dragonfly, according to BuzzFeed. A list of employees’ names has been circulating throughout the company’s internal communications systems, the report said.

Poulson didn’t immediately return a request for comment. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment, saying in statement, “It is our policy to not comment on individual employees.”

She also pointed to a previous statement about the company’s efforts in China, emphasizing that a launch is not imminent. “We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools,” the spokeswoman said. “But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

The reported resignations illustrate a shifting cultural environment at Google, where employees have been more outspoken, publicly challenging strategy set by the company’s leadership.

It’s the second time in recent months that Google employees have resigned in protest over one of the company’s projects. Earlier this year, thousands protested Project Maven, a drone initiative for the US government that could weaponize their AI research. Around a dozen employees reportedly quit over the initiative.

According to The Intercept, Poulson said in his resignation letter that he was concerned not only about censorship, but the prospect of China hosting consumer data, where it could be accessed to go after political activists and journalists.

“Due to my conviction that dissent is fundamental to functioning democracies, I am forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the erosion of protection for dissidents,” he wrote.

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