Speaking publicly for the first time about Google’s censored “Project Dragonfly” Chinese search engine project, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated that the company has a “longer-term view” on their operations in China.
Speaking onstage at the WIRED 25 summit in San Francisco, Google CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the issue of the company’s censored Chinese search engine known as Project Dragonfly. The project has faced significant backlash, including from Vice President Mike Pence who recently stated: “Google should immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”
Pichai stated that although Project Dragonfly will conform to strict Chinese censorship laws, it will still be able to respond to “well over 99% of the queries” entered into it and that “there are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what’s available.”
Google has previously stated that they are “not close” to launching a search engine in China but recently leaked discussions paint a different picture. Google’s Keith Enright told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on September 26th that there “is a Project Dragonfly,” but said, “we are not close to launching a product in China.” Google’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, told a BBC reporter at Google’s 20th-anniversary celebration event: “Right now, all we’ve done is some exploration, but since we don’t have any plans to launch something, there’s nothing much I can say about it.”
During the WIRED 25 summit, Pichai said that Chinese tech innovations drove Google to develop an understanding of the market internally: “It’s a wonderful, innovative market. We wanted to learn what it would look like if we were in China, so that’s what we built internally,” said Pichai, adding: “given how important the market is and how many users there are, we feel obliged to think hard about this problem and take a longer-term view.”
Google has previously operated a search engine in China at Google.cn but this project was shut down in 2010 after a “sophisticated cyber attack originating from China” that allegedly targeted human rights activists in the country. Google also cited the Chinese government’s efforts to “further limit free speech on the web in China” by blocking websites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter as their reasoning for leaving the country. Now it seems they’re attempting to re-enter the Chinese market.
Pichai said that Google only began developing Project Dragonfly after much deliberation within the company, saying: “People don’t understand fully, but you’re always balancing a set of values when entering new countries,” he added: “but we also follow the rule of law in every country.”