Google Admits to Censored Search Engine Project in China
Google CEO Sundar Pichai finally acknowledges secret Chinese 'Project Dragonfly'
Google has finally admitted to working with the Chinese Government on a secret censored search engine project in China.
Google has been attempting to dispell rumors of the controversial "Project Dragonfly," both publically and internally, but a series of damning leaks has made it impossible to continue denying the new censorship operation any longer.
The search engine giant's CEO Sundar Pichai has now apparently realized that it would be better for the firm's public image if he finally "came clean" about Google's plans to return to China, a market it abandoned in 2010 after repeatedly clashing with the Chinese Government over its censorship policies.
Pichai has decided to admit the existence of the secret project for the first time publically, just two weeks after US Vice President Mike Pence demanded that Google shuts down "Project Dragonfly."
According to Zero Hedge, what Pichai tried to spin as "leveling" with his audience was, in reality, anything but: Despite reports that "Dragonfly" is "larger than many projects at Google" and employs some 300 full-time engineers, Pichai insisted on describing it as an "experiment" that was in its "early stages" of development (details from a leaked internal memo have suggested that "Dragonfly" could be up and running within the next six to nine months).
For readers who missed the damning series of leaks sketching out the scope of the project, "Dragonfly" is intended to be a censored search engine that would block results for queries that the Chinese government considered sensitive, like the Mandarin phrases for "human rights" and "student protest."
It would also require Chinese users to log in with their credentials before searches can be run, ensuring that the Communist Party can log and examine a comprehensive record of search activity.
But while Pichai acknowledged that "Dragonfly" would censor some search terms, ultimately, Google would be able to serve well over "99%" of queries.
While it's unclear how Pichai arrived at this metric, we imagine there aren't too many Chinese citizens sitting at their terminals Googling "Nobel Peace Prize" over and over again...
"We wanted to learn what it would look like if Google were in China, so that's what we built internally," Pichai said.
"If Google would operate in China, what would it look like?
"What queries would we be able to serve?
"It turns out we'd be able to serve well over 99 percent of queries and there are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what's available."
This is insane. The problem is not that Google would do evil by censorship in China, it's the leverage China would garner over Google. https://t.co/2SAKSJXnOb— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) October 16, 2018
In a subtle dig at Baidu, one of Google's largest domestic competitors, Pichai said "today people either get fake cancer treatments or they actually get useful information," an apparent reference to a 2016 case where Baidu was found to have "distorted" information found through its portal about ineffective "medical treatments."
Given that the mainland market harbors hundreds of middle-class users, whose personal data Google and its tech rivals are eager to exploit for profits, Pichai said Google was obligated to "think hard" about the problem of returning to China, and that US companies shouldn't scuttle what could be an enormously profitable initiative just because it would require making a few ethically dubious concessions to a totalitarian state.
As Silicon Valley titans often do, Pichai managed to cloak his words in a sunny moral relativism - Google is a business after all, and no imperative more greatly influences its decision-making than the quest for "the next billion users".
But as Matt Stoller pointed out on twitter, the straw-men arguments addressed by Pichai during his talk missed the point entirely:
"The problem is not that Google would do evil by censorship in China, it's the leverage China would garner over Google."