Google’s ambitions for China could trigger a crisis inside the company

Aug 18, 2018 by

Employees are in the dark — and they’re furious

By Casey Newton –

On Thursday afternoon, a critical meeting at Google was derailed by a handful of tweets. Employees who had been pressing top executives for answers about the company’s plans to build a censored search engine and news app for the Chinese market appeared to have finally gotten their wish. Google cofounder Sergey Brin and CEO Sundar Pichai had taken the stage to address employees’ concerns. “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record,” Pichai said, according to a report from The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher.

Then employees noticed that executives’ words were being transcribed in real time by the New York Times’ Kate Conger, who had a source inside. Upon which an unidentified employee at the meeting went up to a microphone and did this, according to Business Insider’s Greg Sandoval:

”Fuck you,” said the male Google employee standing at the microphone during a pivotal moment at the company all-hands meeting on Thursday night.

According to three sources in attendance who spoke with Business Insider, the man was addressing whoever within Google was relaying what was said at the gathering in real time to a New York Times reporter. The reporter had posted statements to Twitter that had been made just minutes before by Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin and CEO, Sundar Pichai, and her tweets were displayed on a large screen before the gathering.

It was a dramatic turn of events, and it stopped the meeting in its tracks. Few details about the Chinese project were shared, and as Sandoval notes, it gave Brin and Pichai a good excuse to continue working on the Chinese project in secrecy.

But what the executives did say has raised some uncomfortable questions. (Gallagher has 13 of them for Google, all worth reading; we’ll limit ourselves to just a few.)

One, Pichai apparently characterized the nature of Google’s work in China as exploratory. Gallagher has previously reported that Google had plans to get the censored search engine — codenamed Dragonfly — into a “launch-ready state.” Maybe those things aren’t at odds — maybe something can be both launch-ready and exploratory — but Google appears to be much further down the road to relaunch in China than anyone acknowledged on Thursday.

Two, Brin said he had only recently become aware of Dragonfly. On one level, this would seem to strain credulity: Brin’s upbringing in the Soviet Union shaped his views on censorship and informed the company’s decision to exit the Chinese market in 2010. Launching an initiative to re-enter China without Brin’s express approval would seem to be a firing offense, even if Google is now a subsidiary of Alphabet and operating with less direct oversight. (Counterpoint: this is Sergey Brin we’re talking about! One of the world’s most eccentric billionaires. Yesterday he described Dragonfly as a “kerfuffle.” If you told me Brin had recently delegated all of his decision-making authority to a stack of pancakes, I would believe it.)

Source: Google’s ambitions for China could trigger a crisis inside the company – The Verge

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