Is Google still developing a censored search engine for China?

Business & Technology

One of the biggest stories about technology and China last year was the revelation in early August that Google was building a new censored search engine for the Chinese market. After months of intense controversy — and doubt that Beijing would even allow Google to release a search engine product in China at this time — Google reportedly put the project on hold in December.

But as many as 100 employees at Google continue to work on the project, and hundreds of edits have been made to the censored search engine app code in recent months, the Intercept now reports.

  • “Late last year, bosses moved engineers away from working on the controversial project, known as Dragonfly, and said that there were no current plans to launch it. However, a group of employees at the company was unsatisfied with the lack of information from leadership on the issue — and took matters into their own hands.”
  • “The employees identified about 500 changes to the code in December, and more than 400 changes to the code between January and February of this year, which they believe indicates continued development of aspects of Dragonfly.”
  • “The employees say there are still some 100 workers allocated to the ‘cost center’ associated with Dragonfly, meaning that the company is maintaining a budget for potential ongoing work on the plan.”
  • “The Intercept knows of six staff at the company, including two in senior positions, who have quit since December, and three others who are planning to follow them out the door.”
  • “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,” Colin McMillen, a software engineer who worked at Google for nine years but quit last month partly in protest of the China search engine development, told the Intercept.

A search engine launch is just one of many ways in which Google could be, or already is, moving further into the Chinese market. Since the 2010 “pullout,” partially over censorship and partially over intellectual property, the company has continued to sell ads in China, and more recently has launched apps and invested in AI research in Beijing.

In June last year, Google also invested $550 million in China’s second-largest ecommerce company, ZDNet now reports that JD has begun listing “around 500 products on Google Express,” which it calls “the first time the two companies have worked together” since the investment last June.