- Sources point to the Google “Dragonfly” project being shelved, at least for now.
- Dragonfly was an attempt to bring a Google-branded search engine to China, where currently very few Google products are allowed to operate.
- According to inside sources, the shelving of Dragonfly is a direct result of the internal and external backlash against the product.
The Dragonfly project was reportedly an attempt by Google to create a heavily-censored version of its famous search engine for use in mainland China, where the authoritarian government strictly censors internet content behind what’s become known as “The Great Firewall.” The very existence of Dragonfly — first reported by The Intercept — caused much controversy both in the media and within Google’s own ranks.
According to the most recent report, top Google executives — including CEO Sundar Pichai — have ceased all operations related to Dragonfly and the censored search engine.
The alleged events surrounding the development of the Dragonfly project are explicitly detailed in the new Intercept report. Allegedly, Google set up a system to monitor internet traffic of the website www.265.com, a popular search and information hub in China (think early Yahoo, for comparison). When visitors enter search queries at 265.com, they are forwarded to Baidu — China’s biggest search engine which is itself heavily censored.
Google allegedly monitored the 265.com search queries before forwarding them to Baidu, developing massive datasets pertaining to what mainland China residents are searching for. Using this data, Google reportedly tweaked its own Dragonfly search engine to create a system that would be better than competitors like Baidu, but still adhere to the strict censorship of the Chinese government.
The 'Dragonfly' project would have seen Google backtrack on its own, decade-long refusal to submit to any kind of censorship.
These search results would need to have all manners of information removed, such as anything related to human rights, democracy, peaceful protest, and anything else deemed “dangerous” by the Communist Party government. It would also need to forbid linking to “dangerous” websites like BBC.com, Wikipedia, and even Google’s own YouTube.
After news broke about the existence of the Dragonfly project, the backlash both inside and outside Google was enormous. According to the new report, Google promptly removed its engineers’ access to 265.com, which effectively crippled the project. After all, how can you create a censored search engine for mainland China if you don’t know all about what mainland China residents are searching for?
Eventually, the call was reportedly made to ditch Dragonfly altogether. However, there has been no official announcement about its permanent demise, which means the project could start development again at any time.
Last week, Sundar Pichai was questioned by the United States government about many things related to Google, including its connection(s) with China. Pichai declared there were no plans to introduce the search engine product related to Dragonfly. However, he did not say the project was permanently over.
If Google did decide to release a heavily-censored search engine in China, it would go back on over ten years of the company’s refusal to take part in Chinese oppression. As such, almost no Google products are available in China, including Gmail, Google Maps, and its other high-profile properties.