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Thank you, Jack Poulson

Jack Poulson, a senior Google scientist, recently resigned because of the work Google is doing on censorship. Here’s from The Intercept:

Jack Poulson worked for Google’s research and machine intelligence department, where he was focused on improving the accuracy of the company’s search systems.

In early August, Poulson raised concerns with his managers at Google after The Intercept revealed that the internet giant was secretly developing a Chinese search app for Android devices. The search system, code-named Dragonfly, was designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

After entering into discussions with his bosses, Poulson decided in mid-August that he could no longer work for Google. He tendered his resignation and his last day at the company was August 31.

He told The Intercept in an interview that he believes he is one of about five of the company’s employees to resign over Dragonfly. He felt it was his “ethical responsibility to resign in protest of the forfeiture of our public human rights commitments,” he said.

In his resignation letter, Poulson told his bosses: “Due to my conviction that dissent is fundamental to functioning democracies, I am forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the erosion of protection for dissidents.”

“I view our intent to capitulate to censorship and surveillance demands in exchange for access to the Chinese market as a forfeiture of our values and governmental negotiating position across the globe,” he wrote, adding: “There is an all-too-real possibility that other nations will attempt to leverage our actions in China in order to demand our compliance with their security demands.”

The Intercept also published Poulson’s full resignation letter at the bottom of that article and it’s an interesting read.

Poulson is one of a couple of other Google engineers who have recently resigned because they didn’t want to continue contributing to Google’s immoral practices. I’ve recently also blogged about engineers at other companies such as Microsoft and Amazon refusing to go along with immoral business decisions.

Whenever I read about such cases I feel a lot of gratitude for what these people are doing. It’s never easy to do what they do, and quitting your job in order to stop contributing to evil is one of the more extreme measures you can take. I’m extremely grateful to Jack Poulson for doing what he has done, and I hope a lot more people follow his example in the very near future before things get much worse.

It seems like while most of the bright young engineers that work for these companies are good at what they do, they often lack a basic sense of morality and understanding of ethics, and aren’t able to realize what kind of impact their contributions will have on the world and even their own future and that of their family.

And while you have people like Poulson who refuse to work on technology that will be used to enable censorship, you have other fucking stupid engineers like Linus Torvalds who decide that self-censorship is a good solution to solve some of their problems. After people complained about Torvalds’s management style over the years, he seems to have finally caved in and decided that he needs to act more “professional” (read: politically correct) and watch his language. His “solution”? Write “tools” that will help with self-censorship:

I need to take a break to get help on how to behave differently and fix some issues in my tooling and workflow.

And yes, some of it might be “just” tooling. Maybe I can get an email filter in place so at when I send email with curse-words, they just won’t go out. Because hey, I’m a big believer in tools, and at least _some_ problems going forward might be improved with simple automation.

Now imagine that Torvalds really manages to write some effective “tools” for (self-)censorship. What kind of impact would those “tools” have on the world and the future of communication (on the Internet)? Think about developers and corporations adopting such “tools” worldwide like they did with Linux and git. What would happen? Is this really something worth working on?


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