Last month, the Intercept informed that Google is reportedly building a prototype search engine for China called ‘Dragonfly’ which lead to Google employees pressuring Google to abandon the project on ethical grounds. Google has then appeased their employees stating that the project was simply an exploration and nowhere near completion.
Now, there are fresh reports from the Intercept that Google’s custom search engine would link Chinese users’ search queries to their personal phone numbers, thus making it easier for the government to track their searches. This means those who search for banned information could be interrogated or detained if security agencies got hold of Google’s search records.
According to The intercept, Dragonfly will be designed for Android devices, and would remove content considered to be sensitive by China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime- which includes information about freedom of speech, dissidents, peaceful protest and human rights.
Citing anonymous sources familiar with the plan—including a Google whistleblower having “moral and ethical concerns” about Google’s role in censorship, the Intercept revealed that “programmers and engineers at Google have created a custom Android app” which has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government. The finalized version could be launched in the next six to nine months, after the approval from Chinese officials.
What this means to other nations and to Google
China has strict cyber surveillance, and the fact that this tech giant is bending to China’s demands is a topic of concern for US legislators as well as citizens of other countries.
Last week, in an Open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the US Senator for Florida Marco Rubio led by a bipartisan group of senators, expresses his concerns over the project being “deeply troubling” and risks making “Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime”.
He also requests answers for several unanswered doubts. For instance, what changed since Google’s 2010 withdrawal from China to make the tech giant comfortable in cooperating with China’s rigorous censorship regime.
This project is also driving attention from users all over the Globe.
Google has not yet confirmed the existence of Dragonfly, and has publicly declined to comment on reports about the project. The only comment released to Fox News from a Google spokesperson on Sunday was that it is just doing ‘exploratory’ work on a search service in China and that it is ‘not close to launching a search product.’
In protest to this project last month, more than 1,000 employees had signed an open letter asking the company to be transparent. Now, some employees have taken the next step by resigning from the company altogether. This is not the first time that Google employees have resigned in protest over one of the company’s projects. Earlier this year, Project Maven, a drone initiative for the US government that could weaponize their AI research caused a stir among at least a dozen employees who reportedly quit over the initiative.
The scrutiny on Google’s take on privacy has continued to intensify. It is about time the company starts taking into consideration all aspects of a user’s internet privacy.
To know more about Project ‘Dragonfly’, head over to The intercept.