Google’s Dragonfly: The Ethics of Providing a Censored Search Engine in China

by Ernesto Dal Bó and Guo Xu

In 2018, a Google employee leaked that the world’s largest search engine was attempting to provide its service to China censored by the Communist Party. Google employees demanded explanations, protested, and even resigned over the secret Project Dragonfly. One whistleblower was motivated by moral concerns and lack of public scrutiny: “I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.” This left employees, human rights advocates, and Western companies and governments analyzing the ethics of corporate involvement with authoritarian regimes. Could a technology giant’s presence in China improve the lives of citizens or simply legitimize autocracy? Also, what factors should employees weigh in deciding to remain loyal to company strategy versus voicing moral concerns?

Learning Objectives

1. Analyze how to apply a sophisticated ethical analysis to company decisions involving government relations and human rights; 2. Examine the separate role of factual assumptions, company characteristics, and ethical principles driving a sound conclusion that can be clearly communicated and defended; 3. Understand how enlightened individual employee decisions must include an evaluation of corporate policies and the process through which those policies are selected; 4. Examine what factors determine if a company’s participation in a foreign country will strengthen an autocratic regime vs. have enough positive impact to improve citizen welfare.


Pub Date: November 1, 2020

Discipline: Ethics

Subjects: Ethics, Leadership, Crisis management, Non-market strategy

Product #: B5966-PDF-ENG

Industry: Technology, Internet services

Geography: Silicon Valley, China

Length: 10 page(s)

Berkeley Haas Case Series
Berkeley Haas Case Series The Berkeley Haas Case Series is a collection of business case studies written by faculty members at the Haas School of Business. Cases are conceived, developed, written, and published throughout the year, on subjects ranging from entrepreneurship and strategy to finance and marketing. Each case includes a teaching note for use in the classroom.


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