Tuesday, 18 December 2018 09:54

Google's secret China project appears to have come to a halt Featured

Google's secret China project appears to have come to a halt Pixabay

Google's attempts to launch a censored search engine in China appear to have been put on the backburner after the company shut down a data analysis system used for building the engine.

The shutdown occurred because members of Google's privacy team complained to the company's bosses that they had not been told about the project, The Intercept  reported.

The news that Google planned to re-enter China with a project known as Dragonfly — the company had a censored search engine in operation from 2006 to 2010, but pulled out when its servers were hacked by Chinese authorities — surfaced on 1 August in The Intercept.

Tuesday's report said the internal lack of communication about the project effectively ended work on the search engine.

Google had apparently used a Chinese Web directory 265.com to obtain information about searches carried out in mainland China after buying the site in 2008. While search queries input into 265.com are normally sent to the Chinese search engine Baidu, Google stored the information before sending it on to Baidu.

After seeing what results were surfaced on Baidu by the search terms they had stored, the engineers looked at what would be shown if the same search terms were put into Google and compiled a list of the sites that would be need to be banned.

The privacy team at Google were unaware of the data access to 265.com and this led to a row between the executive team and the engineers who were then told that they could not use 265.com to continue developing Dragonfly.

One source said that the data from 265.com was integral to Dragonfly and with that source now banned, progress on the project had ground to a halt.

There have been numerous developments since the first reports about the project, with even US Vice-President Mike Pence calling on the company to scrap it.

Google has been silent about the project for the most part, but in October chief executive Sundar Pichai referred to it in public, telling a conference that what had been developed up to that point was "very promising".

Last month, a number of Google employees published a letter, calling on the company to cancel the proposed censored search engine for China.

When Pichai was asked what user information Google would share with Beijing authorities, he again avoided a direct answer, saying: "We would look at what the conditions are to operate … [and we would] explore a wide range of possibilities.”

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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