10 Facts About Google’s Censored ‘Project Dragonfly’ Chinese Search Engine

Eric Schmidt Google (Peter Parks / AFP / Getty)
Peter Parks / AFP / Getty

Google’s once-secret censored Chinese search engine project, Project Dragonfly, is now increasingly out in the open. Here are ten important facts about Google’s partnership with the authoritarian communist government of China.

The search engine will blacklist terms and searches about human rights, democracy, and protest.
Project Dragonfly will aid the Chinese government by blacklisting certain search terms and websites related to human rights, democracy, and peaceful protest.

According to the Intercept, Project Dragonfly “will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable.”

“The Chinese government blocks information on the internet about political opponents, free speech, sex, news, and academic studies. It bans websites about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, for instance, and references to ‘anticommunism’ and ‘dissidents.’,” explained the Intercept. “Mentions of books that negatively portray authoritarian governments, like George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, have been prohibited on Weibo, a Chinese social media website. The country also censors popular Western social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as American news organizations such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

Project Dragonfly will link searches to personal phone numbers, eroding anonymity for dissidents.

Searches made on Google’s Chinese search engine will not only be censored, but also tracked, with mobile searches linked to the personal phone numbers of those searching. The vast majority of Internet activity in China is done with smartphones.

“Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number,” reported the Intercept. “This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.”

Google employees working on Project Dragonfly were ordered to “keep quiet” about it, “deflect questions,” and cover paper trails.

Google didn’t want too many people to know about the details of Project Dragonfly, and ordered employees working on it to “keep quiet” and “deflect questions.”

“We were told to avoid referencing it around our team members, and if they ask, to deflect questions,” claimed an anonymous source to the Intercept.

Employees were also reportedly ordered to “delete a memo revealing confidential details” about the project.

Google claimed the project is “not close” to being finished, but sources at Google claim this is false.

During a September hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Google claimed Project Dragonfly was “not close” to launching.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also made the same statement to Google employees, declaring, “We are not close to launching a search product in China.”

One Google source, however, claimed these claims were “bullshit,” while sources told the Intercept that Google was preparing for the search engine to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed” following confirmation from the Chinese government.

Human rights organizations have condemned Project Dragonfly.

Over a dozen human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders have condemned and expressed concern over Project Dragonfly.

In an August open letter to Google, the organizations described the project as “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights.”

“The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China,” the letter declared.

Google employees wrote a letter to executives expressing concern over Project Dragonfly, while a lead scientist quit the company in protest.

In August, it was reported that Google employees had sent a letter to Google management expressing concern over Project Dragonfly and demanding more transparency.

“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough,” the employees declared in the letter. “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

One Google senior research scientist even resigned in protest to “avoid contributing to” the “erosion of protection for dissidents.”

“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,” expressed senior research scientist Jack Poulson in his resignation letter. “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… 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.”

Google’s search engine chief claimed Project Dragonfly was “extremely important,” and described China as “the most interesting market in the world today.”

Google’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, reportedly told employees that Project Dragonfly work was “extremely important.”

“We are talking about the next billion users,” he added, describing China as “the most interesting market in the world today.”

Congress expressed “serious concerns” that Project Dragonfly “will comply with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and restrictions on free speech,” and contribute to “human rights abuses abroad.”

In an open letter, a bipartisan group of congressmen expressed “serious concerns” over Project Dragonfly.

“We write to share our serious concerns about reports that Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with an app-based search engine that will comply with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and restrictions on free speech,” wrote the congressmen. “As policymakers, we have a responsibility to ensure that American companies are not perpetuating human rights abuses abroad, and to ensure that our regulatory and statutory systems are able to deal with changing business environments.”

The letter was signed by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

Vice President Mike Pence called on Google to “immediately end development” of Project Dragonfly.

During an October speech, Vice President Mike Pence called on Google to “immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app,” claiming it “will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

Google employees applauded company executives for taking a “very bold stance” against China just two years ago.

Just two years ago, Google employees applauded company executives for taking a “very bold stance” against China during a company-wide “TGIF” meeting following the election of President Trump, which was leaked to Breitbart News in September.

One employee at the time even claimed it was one of the “greatest things” the company had ever done.

Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @MrNashington, or like his page at Facebook.


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