Lawmakers sought answers Friday from Google chief executive Sundar Pichai after a report said his company intends to launch a censored search engine in China, raising concerns over conforming with the country’s infamously restrictive internet rules.
Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, led a letter sent to Mr. Pichai in light of The Intercept reporting that Google plans to launch a search engine, code-named “Dragonfly,” that would blacklist websites and search terms involving topics including human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protest.
“If true, this reported plan is deeply troubling and risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime,” the senators wrote.
“It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google— the biggest search engine in the world — to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” the lawmakers added.
The letter asks Mr. Pichai to clarify elements reported by The Intercept, including whether Google is developing a search engine or any other censored products for China, as well as if the company plans on complying with the nation’s stringent cybersecurity and data localization laws.
The letter was signed by Mr. Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mr. Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, in addition to four colleagues from both sides of the aisle: Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat; Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat; Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican; and Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican.
Google representatives did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
China banned Google in 2010 after the company said it would refuse to comply with Chinese censorship requests and not filter the content shown to users querying its search engine from domestic internet connections.
A study released in November by the Freedom House non-profit organization ranked China first in the world in terms of restrictive internet laws for the third years in a row.
Google began work on Dragonfly last year, according to The Intercept, and the project gained steam after Mr. Pichai met with a top Chinese government official in Dec. 2017, the report said.
“We don’t comment on speculation about future plans,” a company spokesperson said in a statement previously issued in response to The Intercept’s report.
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