Google has terminated Project Dragonfly, its censored Chinese search engine

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In a Senate Judiciary audience Earlier this week, Google’s vice president of public policy, Karan Bhatia, confirmed that the tech giant had abandoned work on its secret project named Dragonfly, a censored search engine designed for the Chinese market.

“We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” Bhatia confirmed in response to questions from Senator Josh Hawley about Google’s past and present activities in China.

“You are happy to censor for China’s repressive authoritarian regime like for example with Google.cn,” Hawley (R-Missouri) said. “Happy to censor any mention of Tiananmen Square, happy to help the Chinese government maintain control of all information in the country, happy to help them control the flow of information to their own citizens. You are happy to do all that. Wouldn’t you call that censorship with an ideological agenda?”

According to Bhatia, Google left China in 2010 because the tech giant at that time, in addition to being the victim of a cyberattack, believed that the censorship requirements applied to Google were not compatible with its mission at the time.

Of course, things have since evolved and, as investigative news site The Intercept discovered last year, Google launched a secret project to launch a Chinese search engine dubbed Dragonfly in the spring of 2017 that filters websites and search results about human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protest , all based on Chinese-imposed web censorship requirements. government.

Google still not ready to commit to no censorship in China in the future

Insisting that Google does not currently provide a search engine in mainland China—it does so from its subsidiary in Hong Kong—Bhatia, however, failed to commit that Google would not engage in any form of censorship with the Chinese regime in China against Chinese citizens in the future.

“Are you going to commit to it? You will not accept any information or restrictions on the flow of data in China, in the Chinese market,” insisted Hawley, who also mentioned the blocking of search terms for Uyghurs and concentration camps.

In response, Bhatia just said that in China, Google does “very little [business] today, certainly compared to any other big tech company,” and that the Silicon Valley company currently has no plans to enter the search market in China.

“What we are prepared to commit to Senator is that any decision to consider returning to the China search market is one that we would only make in consultation with key stakeholders,” added Bhatia.

Which elicited the following emotional response from the senator: “You have been more than willing to engage in ideological censorship in the biggest market in the world. You were more than happy to partner with the most repressive authoritarian regime on the planet, all for profit, whatever it is, it’s good for Google. Why would anyone believe you now?”

Insights from Atherton Research

Although Google has confirmed the termination of its Dragonfly project, the Silicon Valley giant has not made a commitment not to enter the Chinese search market in the future.

However, it is important to keep in mind that Microsoft Bing search engine is currently available in China and its search results are censored in accordance with Chinese government guidelines.

European search engine Qwant is another western cloud search provider which is also licensed to operate in the Chinese market which is currently dominated by Baidu.