The drama surrounding Google’s search engine for China


Courtesy of Tech.Co

Alex Hu, Staff Writer

Only a few months following the outrage over workplace sexual harassment, Google is facing another worldwide controversy. Now, protests are arising over Google’s development of a censored search engine for China, dubbed “Google Dragonfly.”

On Aug. 1, Google Dragonfly’s existence was first made known to the public by an online news publication, The Intercept, revealing leaked documents about the development of the project. The documents describe the search engine as one that conforms with China’s “Great Firewall.” This includes enabling the Chinese government to block web pages that talk about free speech, human rights, political opposition, democracy, and other topics that negatively feature China’s authoritarian government. Additionally, a leaked confidential memo within Google was also published, revealing Google Dragonfly’s plan to pair people’s search history with their location and phone number.

The project represents a shift in Google’s policy in China. Back in 2010, the company took a strong stance against China’s efforts to limit free speech, deciding to leave China with the motto, “Don’t be evil.”

However, Google Dragonfly and other projects such as project “Maven”, a technology allowing drones to identify human targets, has made many Google employees express concerns over Google violating its own ethic principles.

In August, over 1,800 Google employees signed a letter to company executives, seeking more transparency about company projects and decisions.

“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” the letter clarifies.

Sophomore Kyle Paloma was surprised by Google’s change in morals.

“I thought Google was good but it turns out it’s all just about the money,” Paloma said.

At the Wired 25 Summit in October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai confirmed the project’s existence and announced that early testing was going well.

“It turns out we’ll be able to serve well over 99% of the queries,” Pichai said. “There are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what’s available.”

China’s internet users just recently reached 800 million users, representing over 20 percent of all internet users. Many Silicon Valley tech companies have been trying to get into the highly profitable Chinese market. In 2016, Facebook was revealed to be making a project similar to Google Dragonfly, allowing certain Facebook posts to be blocked by third parties. Additionally, LinkedIn has already been in the Chinese market because of its agreement to block certain content.

Another reason for the development of Google Dragonfly is the poor performance of the existing search engines. Currently, China’s most popular search engine is Baidu. However, Baidu is reportedly the most censored search engine and is also known for very inaccurate search results. A censored version of Google would overcome this obstacle and push Google into Chinese markets.

Junior Subaysh Kannan believes that Google entering China was a wise business move.

“Google is smart because they’re gonna be rich if they go into China,” Kannan said.

So far, there hasn’t been an official release date for Google Dragonfly. Whether or not Google decides to continue with Google Dragonfly will affect how Google is seen by the public and its employees in the future.