censorship

Google Employees Claim Work on Censored Chinese Search Engine Still Underway

Despite the company claiming no intention to launch a censored search engine for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Google employees suggest work is still ongoing

The exterior of Google's Chinese headquarters
David Hughes
By David Hughes

Google employees have expressed concern that plans are still underway to launch a censored Google search engine for the Chinese market. Known as “Project Dragonfly”, its discovery was first reported in August last year.

According to The Intercept, a group of concerned Google Employees “has identified ongoing work on a batch of code that is associated with the China search engine.”

Google pulled out of China in 2010 in opposition to cyber-attacks and restrictions at the discretion of co-founder Sergey Brin, but current CEO Sundar Pichai has expressed interest in a state-sanctioned re-entry into the market, suggesting in October 2018 that it was “important to explore.

There are 800 million internet users in China, a massive potential market.

The following month, November 2018, we reported on the public outcry among Google employees at the plans, which were also condemned by Amnesty International.

However, when questioned over this by the US Congress in December, Pichai said “there are no plans to launch a search service in China.” It was then suggested that the project had been abandoned due to internal and political pressure, with some employees resigning over the issue.

But unconvinced Google employees have been monitoring code stored on Google computers and identified significant numbers of changes that “indicates continued development of aspects of Dragonfly.” They also claim that there are still 100 workers allocated to the task.

It has been argued that the code changes are merely final touches towards closing the project. But former Google engineer Colin McMillen, who resigned in February over the lack of transparency and “ethically dubious” decisions, told The Intercept: “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.”

According to Freedom House rankings, China remains the chief offender against internet freedom. With 90% of global desktop internet searches performed through Google, its apparent inclination to appease offender number one will strike many as a disconcerting attitude and a slippery slope, particularly as the company has started censoring its Russian search engine.