Google Cancels Controversial ‘Project Dragonfly’

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Pressure from staff. Android search engine app for Chinese market cancelled by Google

Google has publicly confirmed that it has cancelled controversial plans for an Android search engine app (Project Dragonfly) for the Chinese market.

Google’s plans to create censored search app for Chinese market had not gone down at all well with staff at the search engine giant.

Last November staff at Google wrote an open letter to senior management, calling for the halting of development the controversial search app for the Chinese market.

Project Dragonfly

Google had publicly confirmed the existence of ‘Project Dragonfly’ in September last year, after an internal petition from “hundreds of staff” called for more transparency and oversight of the project.

The secret project was unearthed after the Intercept in early September 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 for China was hugely controversial, as it opened the firm up to allegations of supporting state censorship.

Alphabet’s chief executive Sundar Pichai 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 felt that the development of the controversial app would violate Google’s “don’t be evil” clause in its code of conduct.

And now it seems that Google’s senior management has agreed, after Buzzfeed reported that Google’s VP of public policy, Karan Bhatia, confirmed at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, that Google had abandoned the plans.

“We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” Bhatia reportedly said. He was responding to a series of questions from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley about Google’s business with China.

When questioned about the cancellation, Google acted as if the decision was already public knowledge, with a company spokesperson reportedly pointing to its statement in a March 2019 story published in the Verge: “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.”

Google staffers have also previously objected to the firm working with the Pentagon on Project Maven, which Google withdrew from last year.

Chinese issues

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.

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.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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