Nearly a year ago it was revealed that Google was secretly working on a censored version of their search engine to launch in China, codenamed “Dragonfly”. The news was met with swift criticism and outcry. Google employees went on strike, human activists condemned the move, the U.S. government called Google to testify, and the general public was furious.
Now, after nearly a year Google has officially terminated Project Dragonfly. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Karan Bhatia, Google’s VP of public policy, stated that work on the censored Chinese search engine had been “terminated”. A spokesperson for Google later confirmed that the company had no plans to launch a search engine in China.
Google has been vague about Project Dragonfly ever since the documents about it leaked. The leaked documents indicated that the search engine would identify and censor any websites blocked by China’s Great Firewall. Google did eventually confirm they were working on the project but gave few other details.
The company originally launched in China back in 2006, but things were not smooth. Back then, Google complied with the country’s censorship laws, believing that Chinese citizens deserved to have access to information even if it was censored. It was a controversial move even back then. But despite complying with the Chinese government, Chine eventually banned Google-owned YouTube and began restricting access to services. Then in 2010 Google announced they were pulling out of China after a Chinese originating hack.
In truth, a Google search engine in China, censored or not, would make very little impact. Baidu is the primary search engine in China, holding the majority of the search market share.
However, Google refused to commit that they would not reenter China in the future. During the Senate Judiciary hearing, Bhatia was asked about plans to renter China. She stated that Google was willing to commit that “any decision to ever look at going back into the China search market is one that we [Google] would take only in consultation with key stakeholders”.
That answer elicited this response from U.S. Senator Hawley who proposed the original question: “You’ve been more than willing to engage in ideological censorship in the largest market in the world. You have been more than happy to partner with the most repressive authoritarian regime on the planet, all for profits, whatever it is, that is good for Google. Why would anybody believe you now?”
Tech giants such as Google have been coming under fire in recent years, and while Google was able to shield itself from the data-hack scandals that rocked Facebook last year, Project Dragonfly placed it in direct fire. Most believe it’s only a matter of time before Google re-launches in China, and the move will likely not go down smoothly.