Google has "effectively ended" development of Chinese search engine

An internal rift has formed within Google following allegations that some Dragonfly engineers were harvesting query data from China without firm's privacy team's knowledge

18Dec

The search engine Google is developing for China, named Project Dragonfly, has been "effectively ended" according to a report from The Intercept.

The decision followed accounts that Google's privacy team had complained to executives when questionable data collection practices by some of the project's engineers were leaked to the press, leading to an internal rift within the Dragonfly development team.

The complaints stemmed from the revelation that part of the new search engine's development team had been harvesting query data from 265.com. Google bought 265.com in 2008 from Chinese entrepreneur Cai Wensheng and it is one of the most popular homepages in mainland China. 265.com also has a search function but, when used, diverts customers to Baidu.com, the nation's preeminent search engine.


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In August, reports revealed that some engineers were capturing this search data before it was passed on to Baidu.com and using it to help build a more accurate picture of Chinese search habits. They were also using a tool called "BeaconTower" to help compile a list of the websites banned by the Chinese internet censorship system.

Google has strict guidelines and protocols about what can be done with the search data it collects and the privacy team is responsible for observing those standards. However, until The Intercept's reporting, Google's privacy team had been unaware of any of these practices. This led the team to bring up these issues with Google executives and the practices of data capturing have since been stopped, with two engineers being moved off the project permanently.

However, as one source told the publication, "the 265 data was integral to Dragonfly". This means the progress has essentially halted on the project as the other methods being employed to build an accurate picture of Chinese mainland query habits, such as examining searches by Chinese citizens in other countries, are allegedly less effective.

Project Dragonfly has been racked with controversy ever since it was first revealed that Google was building it for the Chinese government. Since then, it has even been accused of being complicit to human rights abuses by aiding the Chinese government in its censorship efforts against activists.

So far, Google has declined to comment. 

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