By Tenzin Dharpo
photo- Students for a Free Tibet
DHARAMSHALA, June 20: Tech giant and leading internet search engine Google on Wednesday confirmed that the censored version of their search engine known as ‘project dragonfly’ has been dropped during the shareholders meeting of its parent company Alphabet in San Francisco. Pro Tibet and human rights groups are claiming victory for the overturn of Google’s bid to capture the vast Chinese market at the cost of human rights concerns.
Campaigners and activists’ coalition including groups like Free Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet, International Tibet Network, World Uyghur Congress and SumOfUs among others have campaigned rigorously for the last ten months in partnership with digital technology experts and ethical consumer rights campaigners to pressure Google to drop the project on the grounds that the initiative infringes and assists Beijing’s assault on people in regions like Tibet, Xinjiang and even the mainland.
During the shareholders’ meeting yesterday, Campaigns and Communications Director for Students for a Free Tibet, Sonam Tso told the Google executives and shareholders, “I come from a country where people are imprisoned for using search terms that the Chinese government doesn’t like and considers “sensitive.” These human rights violations are real and Google must not be complicit.
“Frontline communities don’t have the luxury of waiting for all of your “hypotheticals” to turn into real risks for us. You have violated the trust that your customers place in you, and that is bad for shareholder value. Google’s willingness to collude with the government of China sets an extremely dangerous precedent for internet freedom around the world.”
Fellow campaigner Mandie McKeown from International Tibet Network said, “We have been bolstered to see what we can achieve when we work together, but we will remain vigilant that Google does not renege on this position in the future. We will continue to press Google and other digital tech companies to maximise human rights policies and not bend to China's influence.”
Peter Irwin, World Uyghur Congress Program Manager said, “Widespread rights abuses continue to be facilitated by technology companies with no qualms working directly in support of mass surveillance, artificial intelligence and other programs designed to monitor and control the Chinese domestic population. It is incumbent upon the international business community to live up to clear human rights standards to actively avoid complicity in abuses.”
The sustained campaign over the course of the last months saw demonstrations held at Google offices, online media briefings, online actions including petitions as well as letter co-signed by 170 pro-Tibet groups rebuking Google’s project that was known to be in works since 2018.
In 2010, Google withdrew from the Chinese market citing censorship norms imposed by the Chinese government in its operations there. The withdrawal at the time was seen at par with the company’s philosophy to operate ethically and not be profit-leaning to the detriment of overthrowing basic virtues.