Why was Google grilled by congress for prototyping a censored search engine?



Sudar Pichai was summoned and grilled by Congress regarding numerous topics: among them was the Dragonfly censored search engine for China. What exactly is the problem with Google creating a state censored search engine for China?

Congress summoned Pichai for a reason: not an individual. I do not understand the purpose of the congressional inquiry and is in all likeliness publically documented somewhere by congress itself.

It was suggested that I request "hard evidence" and no speculation. That being said, I think that a superior response has credible sources to back a hypothesis.


Posted 2018-12-13T22:20:41.907

Reputation: 2 120

It is hard to guess the motives of politicians. Relevant to the question.

– David S – 2018-12-13T23:25:23.693

I've voted to close this question as off topic because I'm not diving into the head of a Congressman. – Drunk Cynic – 2018-12-14T00:14:23.557

I don't think congress cares about Google's censorship in China. It's censorship in America that they care about. – Wes Sayeed – 2018-12-14T00:14:35.237

1@DrunkCynic, just because you don't have an answer doesn't mean that a fact based answer can be found. – Burt_Harris – 2018-12-14T05:55:03.567

@Burt_Harris There isn't a fact based answer, because we don't know the inner workings of their minds. Everything would be conjecture. – Drunk Cynic – 2018-12-14T11:35:10.523

1There are video recording of the questioning, and news articles that lay out the concern as illustrated in this in my answer. My answer show a rational connection between the two facts, so it reasoning or interpretation by a person with professional experience in search engines, not conjecture.. – Burt_Harris – 2018-12-14T11:52:27.603

I believe that this forum suffers too much from closing questions as opinion-based when in fact that's not true, this question cites a fact with a link. Answers certainly might be opinion if based on mind reading, but close votes should be more based on actual answers and if they can document the reasoning behind it. Have a gander at my network profile for my credentials to answer. – Burt_Harris – 2018-12-14T12:01:29.320

@DrunkCynic are you able to confirm that Congress did not publish an agenda identifies the purpose of the inquiry and answers the OP? – gatorback – 2018-12-14T14:13:37.993

1@gatorback If someone posts an answer establishing that, I'll be the first to vote for reopening. If you're looking only for "hard evidence", and no speculation, you should state that more clearly in the question. Not one of the answers so far includes any sort of Congressional record, so the perception seems to be that that's not what you're looking for. – Geobits – 2018-12-14T15:39:38.700

@Geobits: insightful response. I thought it was understood that a response with "hard evidence" is expected \ implied. The question does not call for nor controls speculative responses. Shouldn't the question be judged on its own merits and not by the quality of the responses? – gatorback – 2018-12-14T16:08:49.217

If a question attracts speculative answers, and speculative answers only, then clearly the perception does not match the intent. That's usually a communication problem on the part of the asker, but not always. – Geobits – 2018-12-14T16:10:43.370

Both Bing and Yahoo! already operate censored search engines in China. – Rebecca J. Stones – 2018-12-15T01:58:08.117



Congress is interested because the technology used to censor searches in China might be used to censor speech on protected grounds here. For example, if politically incorrect keywords appear, what's to prevent that from being used to restrict 1st amendment rights in this country.

The article Google plans to Launch Censored Search Engine in China, Leaked Documents Reveal went into this logic, and is probably what prompted the question. According to the testimony given, its not currently planned for China. But who's to say they are applying it to U.S. searches today. From a technical standpoint, it would be easy, similar AI based filtering is the basis for many anti-spam filters.


Posted 2018-12-13T22:20:41.907

Reputation: 6 445

Unless the US government was involved, how is it a 1st amendment issue? – Andrew Grimm – 2018-12-16T08:52:53.740

There are concerns about public universities in the US, which are covered by the 1st amendment, suffering as a result of Chinese censorship. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/09/how-china-managed-to-play-censor-at-a-conference-on-u-s-soil/

– Stuart F – 2018-12-17T12:31:15.987


  1. China is generally often seen adversarially by almost all sides of the isle (trade wise, politics wise, geopolitics wise depending on one's angle). Something that helps China in a big way is not going to be seen positively necessarily.

  2. Google is rather disliked by Republicans for using its not-insignificant power as a company in left wing causes and very progressive activist politics by its employees. Dragonfly isn't necessarily an end, just the means to attack Google from that view.

  3. As Wes Sayeed's comment stated, a technology which helps censor Chinese citizens would also be possible to be deployed against US citizens.


Posted 2018-12-13T22:20:41.907

Reputation: 84 347


The problem is that censorship is often used by oppressive totalitarian states to help conceal atrocious crimes from the world, which encourages their worst people to commit even greater and more deadly crimes, up to and including genocide.

A peripheral political question is whether corporations or their officers and employees are moral abettors of such crimes:

  • In IBM and the Holocaust Edwin Black argued that IBM was culpable in providing punch cards and equipment for Nazi Germany's concentration camps:

    ...without IBM's machinery, continuing upkeep and service, as well as the supply of punch cards, whether located on-site or off-site, Hitler's camps could have never managed the numbers they did.
    -- IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 352.

  • Imprisoned pro-democracy dissident Wang Xiaoning's wife Yu Ling sued Yahoo!, under the Alien Torts Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act, for providing Wang's private information to Chinese authorities.

  • Google itself is divided; hundreds of Google's own engineers have signed a petition stating that:

    ...Providing the Chinese government with ready access to user data, as required by Chinese law, would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses.


Posted 2018-12-13T22:20:41.907

Reputation: 11 325