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Ryan Gallagher, The Intercept:

It has been two months since The Intercept first revealed details about the censored search engine, code-named Dragonfly. Since then, the project has faced a wave of criticism from human rights groups, Google employees, U.S. senators, and even Vice President Mike Pence, who on Thursday last week called on Google to “immediately end development of the Dragonfly app that will strengthen the Communist Party’s censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

Google has refused to answer questions or concerns about Dragonfly. Earlier this month, a Google executive faced public questions on the censorship plan for the first time. Keith Enright told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that there “is a Project Dragonfly,” but said “we are not close to launching a product in China.” When pressed to give specific details, Enright refused, saying that he was “not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope for that project.”

Senior executives at Google directly involved in building the censorship system have largely avoided any public scrutiny. But last month, Gomes briefly addressed Dragonfly when confronted by a BBC reporter at an event celebrating Google’s 20th anniversary.

“Right now, all we’ve done is some exploration,” Gomes told the reporter, “but since we don’t have any plans to launch something, there’s nothing much I can say about it.”

Gomes’ statement kept with the company’s official line. But it flatly contradicted what he had privately told Google employees who were working on Dragonfly — which disturbed some of them. One Google source told The Intercept Gomes’s comments to the BBC were “bullshit.”

In July, Gomes had informed employees that the plan was to launch the search engine as soon as possible — and to get it ready to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed” once approval from Beijing was received.

Gomes’s remarks to staff, which can be read in full below, highlight the stark contrast between Google’s public and private statements about Dragonfly.

The secretive project has been underway since spring 2017 — and has involved about 300 employees, the majority of whom have worked full-time on the plan. It was far beyond an “exploration,” and the plan to launch it was well-developed, as some of Google’s own employees have themselves highlighted in recent weeks, despite the company’s efforts to suppress such information.

The Intercept contacted Gomes for comment but he did not answer requests sent by email and text message. Reached twice on his cellphone on Saturday, Gomes claimed when asked about Dragonfly that he had a bad line. “I can’t hear anything that you are saying, I can just hear that you are talking,” he said, and swiftly hung up the phone.

Paul Ciano

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