The company hasn't ruled out doing other work for China.
Google's VP of public policy, Karan Bhatia, today told the US Senate the company has “terminated” Project Dragonfly, its localized search engine project for China.
Bhatia was responding to Republican senator Josh Hawley's questions about Google’s business with China.
Davey Alba at BuzzFeed News writes the company didn't rule out the possibilities of doing other projects for China, now or in the future.
Google's press office, however, is still using to softer language with reporters “Repeating the line that there's 'no work being undertaken on such a project,' ” said The Intercept's Ryan Gallagher.
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Bhatia’s statement is the first public mention that Project Dragonfly has been “terminated,” although Google said in response to questions from BuzzFeed News that Karan’s comments did not reflect a new development. A company spokesperson pointed 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.”
When asked whether “terminated” meant Google would not launch a censored search app in China in the future, the spokesperson said, “We have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project.”
Most Google employees only learned of the secretive program when the Intercept published a report about the code-named project in August. Leaked information about the project prompted a backlash from the company’s rank and file — and it wasn’t the first instance of discord within Google over a government contract.
Google’s Chinese search engine project that would censor parts of the web — codenamed Dragonfly — might not be dead just yet. In December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the House Judiciary Committee that the company had “no plans to launch in China,” seemingly putting an end to the controversial project. But on Monday, The Intercept published a report detailing a group of Google employees’ belief that work on Dragonfly is still ongoing — meaning Google might be planning to help the Chinese government police the web after all.
More than 1,400 Google staff, many journalists, and human rights organizations are calling on Google to halt its controversial project called Dragonfly.
The secrecy surrounding the work was unheard of at Google. It was not unusual for planned new products to be closely guarded ahead of launch. But this time was different. The objective, code-named Dragonfly, was to build a search engine for China that would censor broad categories of information about human rights, democracy, and peaceful protest.
The project, code-named Dragonfly, would blacklist phrases like "human rights," "student protest," and "Nobel Prize," and has resulted in at least seven Google employees quitting for ethical reasons. Other employees have circulated a letter recognizing a "code yellow" emergency, suggesting that the Dragonfly initiative violates Google's ethical code, which states that the company will not build or deploy technologies "whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights," according to The Intercept.
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