A Google spokesperson declined today to confirm or deny a report from The Intercept that an internal struggle between Google's privacy team and executives managing its Dragonfly China search engine project has led to an effective shutdown of the effort.
The search engine had to be different from what Google offers in other countries like the United States and across Europe, due to the People's Republic of China's censorship laws - which is why Google is not in China right now.
Google employees working on the project used data from 265.com, a Chinese-language web directory service widely considered China's most-used homepage. Eventually, the search queries were transferred to Baidu, the leading search engine in China.
In this case, the privacy team was reportedly left out of the process, and didn't learn about Project Dragonfly until the public did, in August. It would also have linked users' searches to personal phone numbers. That was not the case with 265.com queries. In November, more than 200 Google employees issued an open letter to the company demanding it halt the project. Members of the privacy team confronted the executives responsible for managing Dragonfly.
However, it seems like there is heavy opposition within Google towards the Chinese project. Internally, it is said, the project "Dragonfly" (dragonfly) was as good as buried. Typically, projects are pretty secretive, as to prevent leaks from happening, but Dragonfly was on another level.
"Significantly, several groups of engineers have now been moved off of Dragonfly completely, and told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Brazil", the report claimed. Sergey Brin, who was at the helm of Google when the company shut down its China operation in 2010 as a protest, spent his childhood in the former Soviet Union, therefore had first-hand understanding of what censorship is about.
Google was using a website called "265.com" in Beijing to help build its censored search engine.
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This is a significant blow to Pichai.
Even with this news today, I don't think Google's ambitions in China are over - just stalled.
Although the Google Play store is banned in China, plenty of Google apps are available on iOS and Chinese Android app stores.
Criticisms from within the company forced the decision, "effectively ending" the development of the censored search engine known as Dragonfly. But it appears that won't be happening. But right now there are no plans to launch in China.
Google Translate officially returned to China past year, and remains one of the most popular iOS translation apps in the country, according to data from App Annie. "It's hard to imagine you could operate in the Chinese market under the current government framework and maintain a commitment to universal values, such as freedom of expression and personal privacy". Google's motto has always been "don't be evil" and creating a censored search engine would be Google siding with the censorship laws in China, and "being evil", at least according to some.
Records show that 265.com is still hosted on Google servers, but its physical address is listed under the name of the "Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co.", which has an office space on the third floor of a tower building in northwest Beijing's Haidian district.
The move comes after Google representatives raised protestations that venture had been kept mystery from them.
After a series of backlash, Google has ceased its censored search engine project named Dragonfly. This team was kept in the dark about what the developer team was doing, and only found out after the media reported on it.