Report: Google’s Censored Chinese Search App Project Dragonfly ‘Effectively Ended’

Google china Office
Getty/ Liu Jin

Google’s development of “Project Dragonfly,” a censored Chinese search app to comply with the communist regime’s stringent speech codes, has been “effectively ended,” per a report in the Intercept.

The search app, codenamed “Project Dragonfly,” would have featured a list of unsearchable terms based on topics that are blocked by the government of China. It would also have linked users’ searches to personal phone numbers. Leakers also claimed that Google’s privacy team had been denied access to the project, something the company denied. A senior Google researcher, Jack Poulson, resigned in protest at the project in September.

After facing pressure to cancel the project from politicians (including Vice President Mike Pence), human rights groups, and over 1,000 of its own employees, The Intercept reports Google is on the verge of shutting Project Dragonfly down:

Google has been forced to shut down a data analysis system it was using to develop a censored search engine for China after members of the company’s privacy team raised internal complaints that it had been kept secret from them, The Intercept has learned.

The internal rift over the system has had massive ramifications, effectively ending work on the censored search engine, known as Dragonfly, according to two sources familiar with the plans. The incident represents a major blow to top Google executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, who have over the last two years made the China project one of their main priorities.

In addition to shutting down a data analysis system that was integral to the development of Project Dragonfly, Google has started to move engineers off the project. While the project hasn’t been shut down in its entirety, Google has ensured that progress on it will effectively stall. This allows Google to delay the project indefinitely without alienating China by officially canceling it.

In recent weeks, teams working on Dragonfly have been told to use different datasets for their work. They are no longer gathering search queries from mainland China and are instead now studying “global Chinese” queries that are entered into Google from people living in countries such as the United States and Malaysia; those queries are qualitatively different from searches originating from within China itself, making it virtually impossible for the Dragonfly team to hone the accuracy of results. Significantly, several groups of engineers have now been moved off of Dragonfly completely, and told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Brazil.


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