Google is reportedly carrying out a secret “performance review” of its censored Chinese search app, codenamed Project Dragonfly, despite the company claiming in December that is has no plans to launch the project. Project Dragonfly faced widespread condemnation including from members of Congress, human rights organizations, and hundreds of Google employees themselves.
According to the Intercept, executives at Google are “carrying out a secret internal assessment” of the project.
“A small group of top managers at the internet giant are conducting a ‘performance review’ of the controversial effort to build the search platform, known as Dragonfly, which was designed to blacklist information about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest,” the Intercept revealed. “Performance reviews at Google are undertaken annually to evaluate employees’ output and development.”
The Intercept also noted that while performance reviews at Google typically have a peer-review component, “In the case of Dragonfly,” the “peer review aspect has been removed, subverting the normal procedure.”
One source told the Intercept, “Management has decided to commit to keeping this stuff secret,” and are “holding any Dragonfly-specific documents out of [employees’] review tools, so that promotion is decided only by a committee that is read in on Dragonfly.”
Project Dragonfly is a censored Chinese search app, which will reportedly blacklist terms and searches about human rights, democracy, and protest, and link searches to searchers’ phone numbers.
Those working on Project Dragonfly were reportedly ordered by management at Google to “keep quiet” about the project, “deflect questions,” and cover paper trails, and news of the project led to widespread condemnation from hundreds of Google employees, human rights organizations, Republican and Democrat congressmen, and Vice President Mike Pence— who claimed Project Dragonfly would “strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”
During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai claimed the company had “no plans” to “launch a search product in China,” however a number of people have claimed that development is still going.
Following Pichai’s claims that Google was not working on Project Dragonfly, the Verge declared that Pichai “made it clear that, whether the company currently has ‘plans’ to launch the product, Google certainly hasn’t halted work completely.”
“In fact, it has continued to devote substantial resources to the project. While saying the effort was ‘limited,’ Pichai at one point said Google had devoted about 100 people to it, although The Intercept has reported the number is closer to 300,” the Verge continued.