- Kimberly White/Reuters
- Google CEO Sundar Pichai and cofounder Sergey Brin met with employees during an all-hands meeting on Thursday and discussed reports that Google planned to launch a censored search engine in China.
- Pichai said the company was not close to launching a search product in China.
- The meeting grew tense as Pichai and Brin discovered someone was providing real-time reports on the meeting to a reporter.
In a meeting with employees on Thursday, Google’s leadership addressed reports from early this month that the company was building a censored search engine that would allow it to resume operations in China, according to Twitter posts from multiple reporters.
Kate Conger, a New York Times reporter, posted to Twitter what she said were comments made during the meeting by Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Sergey Brin, one of the company’s cofounders.
“If we were to do our mission well, we are to think seriously about how to do more in China,” Pichai told employees, according to The Times. “That said, we are not close to launching a search product in China.”
Brin reportedly denied having knowledge of the program until after news leaked and what Brin described as “this kerfuffle” erupted.
A Google representative was not immediately available for comment.
Google pulled out of China in 2010 over objections to government demands that it filter out websites and information that China’s leaders found objectionable.
Two sources who were privy to what occurred in Thursday’s meeting told Business Insider that Pichai only briefly addressed – and not in any detailed way – the big question on the minds of many at the company: Why is Google considering a return to China? The CEO apparently described the moves being made by the company in that country as “exploratory.”
When the news of a censored search engine was first made public, some Google employees were critical of their company. And earlier Thursday, a letter began circulating among staff members that called on the company’s leaders to create an “ethics review structure” to ensure transparency on issues involving ethics.
Some of the tension that has lingered at the company – including an earlier controversy regarding Google’s work with the military – resurfaced at Thursday’s meeting.
The discussions became tense when Google’s leaders discovered that someone attending the meeting or listening in remotely was supplying live information to Conger, the Times reporter. Brin said he would not continue discussing China because of the leaks, according to the sources who spoke with Business Insider.
It is unusual at Google for someone to live-tweet about all-hands meetings
The sources said images of Conger’s tweets were displayed on a large screen in the room with Pichai and Brin. One Google employee who had stood to ask a question suddenly addressed whoever was surreptitiously leaking information.
“F— you,” he said. He then demanded that the person leave.
The sources said the epithet received some applause.
Brin and Pichai stopped taking questions about China for a while but later took up the subject again after it was clear the leaks had stopped. Google management and employees have long shared ideas and information without it showing up in news publications, which makes the Thursday incident unusual.
The fact that someone within Google was sharing info in real time appeared to anger some workers, one source said.
But according to two sources, when the meeting finally ended, it didn’t go unnoticed that many details regarding Google’s plans for China were still unknown.