Google has “terminated” its controversial search engine for the Chinese market following concerns around censorship and surveillance.
The existence of Dragonfly, a separate Google search engine for China, was revealed in a report by The Intercept last year.
The service reportedly includes a number of concessions to the Chinese government’s censors, and was widely protested by Google employees.
Earlier this week Google Vice President of Public Policy, Karan Bhatia, told members of the US Senate Judiciary that Project Dragonfly had been “terminated” and all of the employees working on it had been reassigned.
It’s the first concrete confirmation from the tech giant that the project has been scrapped, but Google has since claimed that it is not a new development.
“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,” the company said in a statement in May.
Google has had a checkered history trying to launch into the Chinese market. The company withdrew its services from the country in 2010 following concerns over surveillance and censorship, but was believed to have been plotting a return after seeing competitors grow in the market.
Prior to the “termination” comment this week, the company had instead maintained that it had no plans “right now” to launch back into China.
After Project Dragonfly was revealed in the media, Amnesty International and Google Employees Against Dragonfly released a letter late last year criticising the program.
“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions,” the letter said.
“Our company’s decision comes as the Chinese government is openly expanding its surveillance powers and tools of population control.
“Providing the Chinese government with ready access to user data, as required by Chinese law, would make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses.”
The project was also labelled “disturbing” by a former Google employee, who said it was a means through which the Chinese government would censor the internet and monitor the behaviour of citizens online.
According to The Intercept report, the project was launched in early 2017, and engineers had at one point been trying to filter out websites from search results including the BBC and Wikipedia.
It follows similar controversy over Google’s contract with the US Department of Defense’s Project Maven, which was revealed in March last year.
The project involved using artificial intelligence to improve the capabilities of drones in the battlefield.
Under the contract, Google was reviewing and analysing drone footage using its artificial intelligence technology.
Following the revelations, more than 4000 employees signed a petition calling on Google to cancel the contract, and 12 engineers resigned.
Google has since said that it will not be renewing the contract.