Google employees are reportedly concerned that the company is still developing the censored Chinese search app “Project Dragonfly” after discovering “ongoing work” on code associated with the project.
According to the Intercept, which cited three sources at Google, employees “identified ongoing work on a batch of code that is associated with the China search engine.”
“Sources with knowledge of Dragonfly said staff who were working on the project were not told to immediately cease their efforts,” reported the Intercept. “Rather, they were instructed to finish up the jobs they were doing and then they would be allocated new work on other teams. Some of those who were working on Dragonfly were moved into different areas, focusing on projects related to Google’s search services in India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East, and Brazil.”
Taking investigations into their own hands, however, some employees “have been keeping tabs on repositories of code that are stored on Google’s computers, which they say is linked to Dragonfly,” and “identified about 500 changes to the code in December, and more than 400 changes to the code between January and February of this year, which they believe indicates continued development of aspects of Dragonfly.”
The sources also reportedly told the Intercept that “there are still some 100 workers allocated to the ‘cost center’ associated with Dragonfly, meaning that the company is maintaining a budget for potential ongoing work on the plan.”
Former Google software engineer Colin McMillen, who left the Big Tech company in February, declared, “Right now it feels unlaunchable, but I don’t think they are canceling outright… I think they are putting it on the back burner and are going to try it again in a year or two with a different code name or approach.”
In a statement to the Verge, a Google spokesman denied the company was still working on Project Dragonfly.
“This speculation is wholly inaccurate. Quite simply: there’s no work happening on Dragonfly,” the spokesman claimed. “As we’ve said for many months, we have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project. Team members have moved to new projects.”
After heavy opposition last year, including from Amnesty International, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Vice President Mike Pence, and over 700 Google employees, Google stopped working on Project Dragonfly, and CEO Sundar Pichai declared during his hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in December that there were “no plans” to release the search app in China.
In August 2018, the Intercept reported that Project Dragonfly would blacklist searches about human rights, democracy, and protest in China, and “comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable.”
Employees working on the project were also ordered to keep it a secret, with one source telling the Intercept, “We were told to avoid referencing it around our team members, and if they ask, to deflect questions.”