Google is reportedly continuing work on a search engine in China, according to an internal investigation by the tech giant’s employees, putting the controversial project back into the spotlight after it was abandoned following condemnation from lawmakers in both parties.
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The initiative – known internally as Project Dragonfly – was said to be ready for release by April 2019. But media leaks on Google’s plans to comply with Chinese censorship rules in order to launch the engine brought intense opposition from within its own ranks, as well as from elected officials.
When asked about the project in December during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, CEO Sundar Pichai denied any immediate launch plans but did not rule out a future release. Amid media reports that work continues on the initiative, Google says nothing has changed.
"As we’ve said for many months, we have no plans to launch search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project. Team members have moved to new projects," a spokesperson said.
Now, a group of employees is raising the alarm that work is in fact continuing on the censored search engine after discovering code associated with the project, according to The Intercept.
It is unclear whether the information uncovered by the independent investigation is a continuation of past work. The center associated with Project Dragonfly reportedly still has roughly 100 workers, indicating there is still a budget for the initiative.
Pichai – who in October said the initiative was in the “very early” stages -- pulled the plug on Project Dragonfly amid mounting criticism, including from employees who raised the alarm over the potential censorship and privacy staffers who were unaware of how far along the company was in its plans.
Those working on the project were informed in December that they were being switched to other efforts.
Google removed its search engine from China in 2010 after discovering it was subject to a cyberattack that targeted Chinese human-rights activists. Still, with a population of 1.4 billion and one of the most lucrative consumer markets, the country has remained a priority for Pichai.