Google Admits Existence of Censored Chinese Search Engine Project; Dodges Questions at Senate Hearing

Planet Free Will

Within a Senate hearing on Wednesday – that was seemingly swept out of the media spotlight by the lead up to today’s Judiciary Committee’s hearing involving a Brett Kavanaugh accuser – Google’s chief privacy officer Keith Enright admitted the existence of Project Dragonfly, reportedly a censored search engine for China.

During the hearing which covered privacy, bias, and censorship – members of the Senate Commerce Committee pressed Enright on how Google’s policies protecting user data would square up with the till-then rumored sanctioned search engine for China. 

Before Wednesday’s hearing, Google had refused to confirm or comment on the reports claiming it has begun working on a project called “Dragonfly,” but the Google chief told lawmakers on Wednesday that “there is a Project Dragonfly.”

Enright would maintain while being pressed on the censorship project by Senator Ted Cruz:

“I will say that my understanding is that we are not, in fact, close to launching a search product in China, and whether we would or could at some point in the future remains unclear … If we were, in fact, to finalize a plan to launch a search product in China, my team would be actively engaged.”

After admitting that “Dragonfly” project did exist, the privacy officer offered dodgy answering, saying that he is “not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of the scope of that project.”

Senator Cruz then asked if he thought that the Chinese government censors what its citizens see, to which Enright responded:

“As the privacy representative of Google, I’m not sure that I have an informed opinion on that question.”

Project “Dragon Fly” was previously reported as the code name for a censored search app in secret development by Google that would be specifically for China and would blacklist any material deemed unfit by the communist regime.

The project first came to light through a report in The Intercept on September 21 that detailed how Google “forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China.”

The memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location — and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have “unilateral access” to the data.

The memo was shared earlier this month among a group of Google employees who have been organizing internal protests over the censored search system, which has been designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined. The Intercept

Enright’s remarks on Wednesday echoed those made by of other Google executives in August that claimed the company was “not close to launching” a search product in China. At that time company heads were admittedly considering how to do business again in the Chinese local market. Chief executive Sundar Pichai said that plans to re-enter China with a search engine were “exploratory” and in the “early stages.”

Google left China in 2010 after clashing with Beijing over censorship of search results and a cyber attack on users of its Gmail email service.

Shortly after project “Dragonfly” became familiar to the public, senior research scientist for Google, Jack Poulson, resigned in protest over the companies work on the censored search product.

Paulson told The Intercept‘s Ryan Gallagher that he felt an “ethical responsibility to resign” over the “forfeiture of our public human rights commitments.”

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