- An internal war is raging at Google between those who want the company to be transparent about its China search engine plans, and those who do not.
- That’s the view of Jack Poulson, a scientist who quit Google last month over the so-called Project Dragonfly.
- Poulson said he was part of a growing Silicon Valley movement, demanding “transparency, oversight, and accountability” for the systems built by companies like Google.
- His comments came as Google confirmed the existence of Project Dragonfly for the first time in a public forum.
An internal war is raging at Google over the company’s project to build a censored search engine in China.
That’s the picture painted by Jack Poulson, a scientist who quit Google last month over the China plans, in a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Poulson revealed that there are two sides emerging at Google: Those who want to discuss and expose information about the secret plans, dubbed “Project Dragonfly,” and those who want to suppress transparency.
The scientist said Google management is “clamping down” on whistleblowers trying to lift the lid on Project Dragonfly details, while many employees also “fear the possible consequences” of speaking out.
In his letter to Senator John Thune, he listed four details about the China plans he has been able to verify. These included linking phone numbers to search queries and only including Chinese government-approved air quality data in results.
“Each of these details was internally escalated by other employees to no avail, and many of them were discussed extensively on internal mailing lists; I understand that such discussion has since been increasingly stifled,” Poulson continued.
His words about the two factions at Google echo the reporting of The Intercept, which has led the way in exposing details about Google’s ambition to return to China after exiting in 2010.
The website reported last week that Google management responded furiously when they discovered that secret details about Project Dragonfly were being circulated in a confidential memo authored by an engineer.
“Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers,” The Intercept said.
Poulson said transparency is vital. “I am part of a growing movement in the tech industry advocating for more transparency, oversight, and accountability for the systems we build,” he added.
Google acknowledges Project Dragonfly for the first time
Google’s reluctance to face questions about Dragonfly were illustrated this month when Alphabet CEO Larry Page refused to give evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was empty chaired at the hearing.
But this changed on Wednesday, when Google responded to the concerns of lawmakers who sit on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
The search giant confirmed the existence of Project Dragonfly for the first time in a public forum. “There is a Project Dragonfly,” said Google’s Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright.
But Enright was evasive under questioning and stressed that the project is nowhere near launch. He added that if Google does build a China search engine, it will be “consistent with our values in privacy and data protection.”
“I will say that my understanding is that we are not, in fact, close to launching a search product in China, and whether we would or could at some point in the future remains unclear,” he said. “If we were, in fact, to finalize a plan to launch a search product in China, my team would be actively engaged.”
Here’s Jack Poulson’s letter in full:
Dear Members of the Senate Commerce Committee:
Senator Thune set the tone for the upcoming hearing by stating that “Consumers deserve clear answers and standards on data privacy protection.”
Given the scale and social impact of the technical systems being deployed by Google and other corporations, I would add that greater oversight and accountability of not only data, but also the systems that are designed and deployed based on such data, is urgently needed.
Until the beginning of this month, I worked in Google’s Research and Machine Intelligence division as a Senior Research Scientist, where one of my primary responsibilities was improving Google’s search accuracy across a wide variety of languages.
I was compelled to resign my position on August 31, 2018, in the wake of a pattern of unethical and unaccountable decision making from company leadership. This culminated in their refusal to disclose information about Project Dragonfly, a version of Google Search tailored to the censorship and surveillance demands of the Chinese government.
Like most of the world, including most Google employees, I learned about this effort on August 1, 2018, from public reporting. It is notable that Project Dragonfly was well underway at the time the company released its AI Principles.
As has been widely understood, by human rights organizations, investigative reporters, Google employees, and the public, Project Dragonfly directly contradicts the AI Principles’ commitment to not “design or deploy” any technology whose purpose “contravenes widely accepted principles of […] human rights”.
Some of the most disturbing components of Project Dragonfly, which I here directly verify, include:
- A prototype interface designed to allow a Chinese joint venture company to search for a given user’s search queries based on their phone number.
- An extensive censorship blacklist developed in accordance with Chinese government demands. Among others, it contained the English term ‘human rights’, the Mandarin terms for ‘student protest’ and ‘Nobel prize’, and very large numbers of phrases involving ‘Xi Jinping’ and other members of the CCP.
- Explicit code to ensure only Chinese government-approved air quality data would be returned in response to Chinese users’ search.
- A catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process, which one of the reviewers characterized as actively subverted.
Each of these details was internally escalated by other employees to no avail, and many of them were discussed extensively on internal mailing lists; I understand that such discussion has since been increasingly stifled. I cannot speak for those who escalated these concerns, but I share their fear of the possible consequences.
I am part of a growing movement in the tech industry advocating for more transparency, oversight, and accountability for the systems we build. The primary goals are laid out in the Google Ethics Code Yellow Petition, which not only continues to circulate throughout Google but has also been endorsed by 14 human rights organizations and several technology experts.
I humbly ask that The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation call on Google’s representative for the hearing, Mr. Keith Enright, to respond to the sincere and credible concerns of the coalition of 14 human rights organizations who drafted an August 28th Open Letter To Google.
I also ask the committee to inquire about how Google is meeting its commitments to privacy under its own AI Principles and the Global Network Initiative, of which Google is a member. Dragonfly is part of a broad pattern of unaccountable decision making across the tech industry.
It has been made clear, both by word and by action, that the leadership at Google will be clamping down on the types of internal investigation that were necessary to bring Project Dragonfly to light. I would hope that The Committee would help protect the environment needed for future whistleblowers by taking steps to guarantee ethical transparency and oversight across Silicon Valley.
/S/ Dr. Jack Poulson
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.