Google Confirms Existence Of Project Dragonfly

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Google confirms Project Dragonfly is being developed, but ‘censorship search’ for China is not close to launch

Google has for the first time publicly acknowledged the existence of ‘Project Dragonfly’, which may see the search engine giant in the future comply with Chinese government censorship and surveillance requests.

The admission of the project came during a tense hearing between US senators and tech executives this week about online privacy.

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers had written to Google, asking if the Alphabet owned firm would be complying with China’s censorship and surveillance policies should it re-enter the Chinese market.

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Public confirmation

And now for the first time, a Google executive publicly confirmed the existence of the company’s ‘Project Dragonfly’.

“There is a Project Dragonfly,” Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer was quoted by the Financial Times as telling the Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, in response to questions from Senator Ted Cruz.

“I am not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope” for Dragonfly, Enright reportedly added. “We are not close to launching a search product in China.”

If such a service did launch, Enright was quoted by the FT as saying that his team would be “very actively engaged to ensure it was going through the proper privacy review process”.

Google’s decision to try and re-enter the Chinese market has also prompted deep concern from its own staff, some of whom have reportedly resigned over the matter. The firm has also faced an internal petition from “hundreds of staff” calling for more transparency and oversight of the project.

It comes after a report from The Intercept earlier this month alleged Google was seeking to re-enter the Chinese market with an Android search app that would blacklist content deemed unacceptable by Chinese authorities.

That decision to develop a mobile search app (Project Dragonfly) for China is hugely controversial, as it opens the firm up to allegations of supporting state censorship.

Alphabet’s chief executive Sundar Pichai earlier this month reportedly confirmed in an internal meeting that Google was not close to launching a search engine app in China, but Pichai did apparently confirm the firm is developing the app, and that “providing more services in that country fits with Google’s global mission.”

But many staff feel that the development of the controversial app would violate Google’s “don’t be evil” clause in its code of conduct.

China of course is widely considered to have one of the most repressive Internet censorship schemes in the world, which is designed to prevent criticism of the ruling Communist Party and suppress dissent and other information deemed dangerous to the state.

Project Dragonfly

The Project Dragonfly app is apparently being tailored for the Android operating system.

Google has reportedly demonstrated the service to Chinese government officials, but the app would still require Chinese government approval before it could be launched in that country.

The search app is said to automatically identify and filter websites blocked by China’s ‘Great Firewall’.

It should be remembered that Google effectively retreated from the Chinese market in 2010 and its websites and services remain blocked in that country, after it refused to abide by its censorship rules.

Google at the time accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out a number of attacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. That triggered a huge political row between America and China in 2011.

Despite that retreat, Google still has several hundred staff in China, and in December 2017 it launched its own artificial intelligence (AI) lab there.

And this is not the first time that Google’s management has angered its own staff.

Some Google staff resigned earlier this year because of a controversial contract with the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence (AI) for weapons systems.

Such was the backlash that in June this year Google pledged to end the project, and it told its staff that it would not renew its contract with the US Department of Defence when it expires next year.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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