Google CEO Sundar Pichai has tried to reassure employees who are worried the company could compromise its values in China.
Pichai, at a city hall meeting on Thursday, said he is not rushing to launch a search product for China. The meeting was the first such event since media reports detailed Google’s efforts to build a censored app for the country.
“We are not close to introducing a search product in China,” said Pichai, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.
“And whether we would or could, everything is very unclear,” he said. “But the team has been in an exploration phase for some time and I think it is exploring many possibilities.”
The discussion was part of a regular meeting, open to all employees.
Reports surfaced earlier this month that Google (GOOGL) has been on a search engine for China that would block sensitive websites and keywords, the Chinese government’s censorship work.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that around 1,400 employees signed a letter calling into question the plan and calling for greater transparency.
“To make ethical decisions, Googlers need to know what we build. At the Moment we do not”, – stated in a copy of the letter on the website of the Times.
Google declined to confirm the authenticity of the letter, or comment on the town hall meeting.
China has hundreds of millions of internet users and a thriving online shopping market, making it impossible for US to ignore tech companies. But the leap back in China poses ethical questions for Google, which has long advocated a free and open internet.
Popular Google services like search, YouTube and Gmail have been banned in China for years.
Google stopped looking in China in 2010 after a political dispute between Beijing and Washington over hacking.
Before 2010, the company had operated a Chinese language version of its search engine. It followed China’s censorship rules, but warned users that some search results were missing.