Google says it will not extend a contract into next year to help the U.S. military analyze drone videos following complaints from company employees.
U.S. media reports said Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., told Google employees about the decision Friday. The development was first reported by tech publication Gizmodo.
Google employees say the tech giant will continue to work on the Maven Project until the contract ends next March. The military project uses artificial intelligence to increase defense capabilities, including using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze aerial drone imagery.
Thousands of Google employees signed a petition urging the company to cancel the contract, arguing that helping the military would violate Google’s motto of “Don’t be evil.”
Reuters reports that several hundred Google employees had planned to hold a public rally in San Francisco in July to protest the military contract.
Google had earlier defended the company’s involvement in the project saying it was limited to helping the military with nonoffensive tasks and said the project would help save lives.
Facing widespread criticism over its “censored” Search engine for the Chinese market, Google has reportedly shut down a data collection system that was key to develop the search project code-named “Dragonfly”.
According to a report in The Intercept on Tuesday, the move comes after hundreds of Google employees raised internal complaints that the project had been kept secret from them.
The report found that Google employees, working on the Dragonfly project, “had been using a Beijing-based website to help develop blacklists for the censored search engine”.
The website www.265.com is a Chinese-language web directory service which Google bought in 2008 from a billionaire Chinese entrepreneur.
“265.com provides its Chinese visitors with news updates, information about financial markets, horoscopes, and advertisements for cheap flights and hotels,” said the report.
“As The Intercept reported in August, it appears that Google has used 265.com as a honeypot for market research, storing information about Chinese users’ searches before sending them along to Baidu,” the report added.
Google engineers working on Dragonfly obtained large datasets showing queries that Chinese people were entering into the 265.com search engine.
“Members of Google’s privacy team, however, were kept in the dark about the use of 265.com,” said the report, quoting sources.
Now, the teams working on Dragonfly are no longer gathering search queries from mainland China.
“Significantly, several groups of engineers have now been moved off of Dragonfly completely, and told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Brazil,” the report claimed.
Google was yet to comment on the report.
Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told a US House Judiciary Committee that the company had “no plans” to launch a search product in China.
In November, Google employees wrote in an open letter to the company that their “opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be”.