Google CEO Sundar Pichai confirmed during congressional testimony on Tuesday that while the company had “no plans” to launch in China, a prototype had been developed, raising red flags among lawmakers.
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Project Dragonfly is the name of the company’s plan to create a China-specific, censored version of its search engine in order to cater to the government in Beijing. Google pulled a censored version of its search engine from the country in 2010 amid concerns the Chinese government might access stored data.
A report from The Intercept said the prototype would link users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, making it easier for the government to potentially surveil citizens.
The engine would also allegedly blacklist certain terms considered “sensitive” like “Tiananmen Square.” The Intercept reported that the product would operate as a joint venture with a company in China, and workers at that company would have the ability to adjust the search term blacklist.
Sources familiar with the matter told FOX Business on Tuesday that some lawmakers are concerned with how Pichai answered questions about Project Dragonfly during his testimony, raising doubt about whether Google will collaborate with the Chinese government on a search engine, or other technology ventures in the future.
Pichai confirmed that at one point in time, more than 100 Google employees were working on the search engine prototype. China is the largest market for internet users.
The prospect of a Chinese search engine has drawn widespread scrutiny – including a letter of protest signed by thousands of Google’s own employees, who called Project Dragonfly “a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance.” They also said Project Dragonfly would make the company complicit in oppression and human rights abuses in the country by enhancing the Chinese government’s surveillance powers.