NEW YORK—Dozens of human rights groups including PEN America released an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai today, asking him to discontinue “Project Dragonfly” and to refrain from launching a censored search browser in China.

Project Dragonfly is the code-name for Google’s product-in-development, a search engine for use within China that censors users’ search terms and search results in compliance with Chinese censorship dictates. While Google has publicly stated that Dragonfly is not close to launch, media reports instead indicate that the project has already reached an advanced state. In September, hundreds of Google employees signed an open letter calling upon the company to scrap the project.

Google’s censored search engine would also reportedly gather significant user data and—given Chinese “cybersecurity” rules—allow the government broad access to this information. PEN America previously noted in its March 2018 report, Forbidden Feeds, that “China’s extensive criminalization of online free speech means that internet companies would almost inevitably enable human rights violations if they comply with government requests to hand over private user information.”

“If Dragonfly is launched in China, it will represent Google’s elevation of profits over human rights,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “But more painfully, it will make Google complicit in the Chinese government’s efforts to censor, surveil, and even punish its citizens for their online speech. Google is already well-aware of how Dragonfly threatens human rights and free expression. It is incumbent on them to do the right thing and to scrap the project.”

PEN America released its own open letter to Sundar Pichai in early September, detailing its concerns over Project Dragonfly. Prior to that, PEN America’s Forbidden Feeds report concluded that foreign technology companies should “refrain from doing business in the Chinese market” unless they obtain an agreement that the company is not obligated to enforce Chinese censorship laws or other regulations that violate customers’ rights to privacy or related rights.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org