Google’s U.S.-China Political Fray Puts the Tech Giant in a Difficult Position

Following employee protests against working on projects for both the U.S. and Chinese governments, Google grapples with how to handle politically-charged ventures.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has met with President Trump to discuss the tech giant's allegiance to the U.S.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has met with President Trump to discuss the tech giant’s allegiance to the U.S. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

It’s been quite a day for Google (GOOGL) as it deals with political controversies left and right.

As CEO Sundar Pichai was meeting with President Donald Trump about the company’s involvement with the Chinese government, a report by The Intercept revealed that the tech giant has continued building a censored search engine for China after employee protests supposedly shut it down last year.

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The Chinese Communist Party-approved search engine project—which the company confirmed was abandoned and claimed its “team members have moved to new projects” last year—is allegedly still secretly being pursued by Google.

The new report provides an added layer to accusations by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who claimed Google is “indirectly benefiting the Chinese military,” which led to Wednesday’s meeting with between the tech giant and the Trump administration.

A company spokesperson reportedly said Google is “pleased to have productive conversations with the president about investing in the future of the American workforce, the growth of emerging technologies and our ongoing commitment to working with the U.S. government.” But while the Pichai-Trump meeting appears to have gone “very well,” according to the president and the company’s PR team—they also “discussed political fairness and various things that @Google can do for our Country,” Trump tweeted—Google’s promised allegiance to the U.S. military will likely still land it in hot water with employees.

As last year’s Google protests and resignations showed, the company’s tech employees refused to work on the censored Chinese search engine, citing moral conflicts. But it’s not just the China-approved search engine that Google employees have had ethical dilemmas about executing. Google was forced to drop its bid for a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon to develop military A.I. surveillance tools, following months-long protests by Google workers who opposed profiting from government defense contracts.

Google’s choice of clients has lead it to tip-toe down a tight line between its native U.S. and one of its biggest clients, China, amid political and economic tensions between the two countries.

On Thursday, Google responded to Observer’s request for comment regarding Dragon’s development, stating: “As we’ve said for many months, we have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project.”

This piece has been updated to reflect Google’s comment to Observer.

Google’s U.S.-China Political Fray Puts the Tech Giant in a Difficult Position