Tuesday, 05 March 2019 09:17

Google still quietly working on China project: claim

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Google still quietly working on China project: claim Pixabay

Google is quietly continuing to work on a project to set up a censored search engine in China, a report claims, with employees saying that they have been tracking code changes which indicate that work is quietly taking place.

In December 2018, a report in The Intercept, the website that first broke the story back in August of that year, said that Google had put the project on the backburner, with a data analysis system that been used for building the search tool having been shut down.

But the same site reported on Tuesday that a group of employees had not been satisfied with the lack of information about the project from company officialdom and had found work was continuing on code connected to the China project.

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 2018.

Tuesday's report quoted a message sent by Caesar Sengupta, one of the Dragonfly project leaders, in mid-December as saying:

"Over the past few quarters, we have tackled different aspects of what search would look like in China. While we’ve made progress in our understanding of the market and user needs, many unknowns remain and currently we have no plans to launch.

"Back in July we said at our all hands that we did not feel we could make much progress right now. Since then, many people have effectively rolled off the project while others have been working on adjacent areas such as improving our Chinese language capabilities that also benefit users globally. Thank you for all of your hard work here.

"As we finalise business planning for 2019, our priority is for you to be productive and have clear objectives, so we have started to align cost centres to better reflect what people are actually working on.

"Thanks again – and your leads will follow up with you on next steps."

Sources indicated that those working on Dragonfly had been told not to stop their work right away but were instead told to finish the work at hand and were then moved to other areas.

Since there was no official word on cessation of Dragonfly, the group of employees started to track internal code repositories for two search apps — Maotai and Longfei — that had been planned for use in the new China project, for use on iOS and Android mobile devices.

They found code changes in December and between January and February as well, leading them to conclude that the work had not been halted. Additionally, about 100 workers are still linked to the cost centre for Dragonfly meaning that Google maintains a budget for the project.

Contacted for comment, a Google spokesperson said: "This speculation is inaccurate. 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.”

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Sam Varghese

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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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