Dragonfly on the Wall
Google’s Chinese search engine project that would censor parts of the web — codenamed Dragonfly — might not be dead just yet.
In December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the House Judiciary Committee that the company had “no plans to launch in China,” seemingly putting an end to the controversial project.
But on Monday, The Intercept published a report detailing a group of Google employees’ belief that work on Dragonfly is still ongoing — meaning Google might be planning to help the Chinese government police the web after all.
The Code Knows
In August, The Intercept published a report claiming Google was working on a censorship-friendly search engine for China. The following month, Google confirmed the project’s existence, and a wave of backlash followed, with the company’s own employees protesting its involvement in the project.
Soon after Pichai’s congressional testimony, it appeared the project was officially dead, but a group of Google employees wanted to be certain, so they launched their own investigation, they told The Intercept.
These employees began monitoring Google’s code repositories related to Dragonfly and noted approximately 500 changes to the code in December. Between January and February, more than 400 additional changes appeared.
The employees told The Intercept they see these changes, as well as that fact that Google is still maintaining a budget for Dragonfly, as evidence that the project is ongoing.
Despite what the employees found, Google maintains that Dragonfly is still dead.
“This speculation is wholly inaccurate,” a Google representative told The Verge. “Quite simply: there’s no work happening on Dragonfly. As we’ve said for many months, we have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project. Team members have moved to new projects.”
Still, when Pichai testified in December, he included the words “right now” when talking about Google’s lack of plans for a Chinese search engine — leading some to believe the project might not be dead, just dormant.
“Right now it feels unlaunchable, but I don’t think they are canceling outright,” former Google software engineer Colin McMillen told The Intercept. “I think they are putting it on the back burner and are going to try it again in a year or two with a different code name or approach.”