Dragonfly: Google’s Secret Project to Censor Search Results in China

Benny Marty / Shutterstock.com

A Google whistleblower revealed to The Intercept that the company secretly plans to bring back its search engine to China, but search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protests will be censored. Many believe this move will normalize China's censorship, which may spread to other nations that choose to use its system as a template.

The plan is part of project “Dragonfly,” a mobile search app that Google believes will offer “better” research results than Chinese competitor Baidu. However, the app will also censor many news and information sites such as BBC and Wikipedia, and it will “blacklist sensitive queries” that the Chinese Community Party may not want its citizens to discover. The project was known only to a few hundred employees inside the company, similar to how Project Maven was also kept secret, as the leadership feared backlash from the more ethical employees.

“I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest,” the Google employee told the publication.

He also feared that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher with human rights group Amnesty International, told The Intercept that Google’s return to China signifies a win for the Chinese government and its censorship regime. According to him if the world’s largest organizer of information in the world agrees to China’s censorship terms, then it sends the message that nobody else should bother challenging the Chinese censorship, either.

Google’s Brief Absence In China

Back in 2010, Google made the decision to exit China. The primary reason over this was the fact that the Chinese government was forcing the company to censor search results. However, only months earlier, the Chinese government had hacked Google’s servers, which likely played a major role in the decision to quit China, too.

Google was never the dominant search player in China. Its main competitor, the local search engine company Baidu, had the dominant position, so it wasn’t that difficult for Google to make that decision at the time.

Since then, Google has developed Android into what some would say is a global mobile operating system monopoly, which has made the company billions of dollars. However, although Android is used by all Chinese smartphone manufacturers, the Google Play Store isn’t. According to a previous report, the Chinese spent $35 billion on mobile apps in 2017 alone, so Google missed on all of that revenue, despite its mobile OS dominating China.

Recently, Google started making some moves in China such as launching several new apps for the Chinese market, as well as investing $550 million into JD.com, an ecommerce giant in China.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • the associate
    They saw the 35 million and shat themselves, and then decided its worth selling over their souls for a peice of that revenue.
  • the associate
  • pensive69
    ok how about we use something other than Google.
    this is prostituting any moral high ground Google has.
  • koga73
    This: "what is done in China will become a template for many other nations."
  • Non-Euclidean
    Google: Helping Others Be Evil
  • irfbhatt
    Wonderful) Will China be able to resist Google Play S))
  • Co BIY
    How much to interact and how much to cooperate with a regime like the one in China is a very complicated series of ethical problems.

    I don't think there are easy answers.

    Although the spotlight is on Google (and should be) every institution and individual with any connection to China should be thinking about the type of regime it is and how they should respond.

    The media, academics, tourists , businesses buying and selling, even simple consumers of "Made in China" should be figuring out where they stand.
  • BulkZerker
    pensive, do not refer to Google as Google, they are part of Alphabet Inc and the people pulling the strings should be brought to light on every turn
  • hellwig
    That's the problem with Capitalism, no amount of money is enough money. Google doesn't need China's money, they just want it. Google can (and has) gotten along just fine without it.

    But Google's shareholders want money, and Google's idealistic and naive management things the world NEEDS Google.

    All corporations are like this. And especially any corporations that do business with governments likes China, where the almighty dollar trumps basic human rights.
  • rdunbar123
    Google was caught sending traffic between its datacenter unencrypted, allowing the NSA to spy. The Chinese harassed them about censorship to ban them effectively, to avoid publicly embarrassing them. Removing the Play Store was to keep them from 'updating' a phone to spy.

    Google is hoping the Chinese will get desperate from tariffs and allow their citizens to be spied to appease the U.S., it will not happen.