A Google executive has confirmed the existence of a project code-named Dragonfly, reports of which surfaced last month, VentureBeat has reported.
Project Dragonfly refers to Google’s rumored plan to launch a search engine in China that would block search terms and sensitive websites prohibited by the Chinese government.
The project is speculated to be Google’s attempt to return to China. Google exited mainland China eight years ago after clashing with Beijing over issues on search result censorship and a cyberattack on Gmail users. Besides Google, other sites being blocked in China are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Google chief privacy officer Keith Enright confirmed during a Wednesday Senate hearing that the search engine giant is indeed working on Project Dragonfly, albeit he did not say what the project covers.
Enright also said that Google is not close to launch the search tool in China, and that if it would indeed launch, he and his team would be very actively engaged in it to make sure it goes through proper privacy review process.
Several senators questioned Enright about the project during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy, and Transportation on consumer data privacy protections. Representatives from Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Charter Communications, and AT&T, were also at the meeting.
“There is a Project Dragonfly,” Enright said in response to questions from Senator Ted Cruz. “I am not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope” for Dragonfly.
When asked for his opinion whether or not China engages in censoring its citizens, Enright answered that he is not certain if he has an informed opinion on the question.
Dragonfly is reportedly designed to remove content deemed sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, and these include information about human rights, peaceful protest, political dissidents and democracy.
Intercept described this product as a censored search engine for China that links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, making it easier for authorities to monitor people’s queries.
Human rights groups criticized the project saying that this could lead to Google directly contributing to, or becoming complicit in violations of human rights. Another concern beyond censorship is that data stored by Google on the Chinese mainland may be accessible to Chinese authorities who may target journalists and political activists.
Google employees, along with six members of the senate, have signed a letter in protest of the project.
“It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google — the biggest search engine in the world — to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” reads the letter, addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.