A Google spokesperson declined today to confirm or deny a report from The Intercept that an internal struggle between Google’s privacy team and executives managing its Dragonfly China search engine project has led to an effective shutdown of the effort.
Instead, the spokesperson said the company is standing by statements made by Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, that the company had no plans to launch the censored search engine, but also leaving the door open for that possibility.
According to the Intercept report today, members of Google’s privacy team were reportedly kept in the dark about Dragonfly engineers’ use of 265.com—a Chinese-language web directory service owned by Google—to obtain market research on Chinese users. Engineers on the project were storing information on Chinese users’ search queries, which is a practice that is supposed to be reviewed by Google’s privacy staff to protect user rights.
The engineers on the project were using 265 to gather information on what users from China were searching, and per the Intercept report, Google engineers were running that data through a program called “BeaconTower” to figure out which search results were censored by China. These banned websites were then integrated into Dragonfly so that they could purge links to these banned sites from the search engine.
Engineers are no longer allowed to use the data from 265, which has stopped progress on the project, the Intercept article said. In recent weeks, some engineers were told to use search query data from “global Chinese” searches in Malaysia and the U.S. However, without the data directly from China, it would be difficult for the Dragonfly team to yield accurate results. Many engineers have simply been moved off the Dragonfly project, the Intercept article said.