Google built a prototype of a censored search engine for China that reportedly links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers—therefore making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor its citizens’ queries.
The app-based project, codenamed Dragonfly, also would remove content deemed sensitive by China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime, including information about freedom of speech, dissidents, peaceful protest and human rights, The Intercept reported.
Previously unknown details about Dragonfly included a censorship blacklist allegedly compiled by Google that included terms such as “student protest” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin.
Human rights organizations have criticized Dragonfly and seven engineers resigned in protest over the lack of accountability and transparency for the controversial project.
“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” Cynthia Wong, a senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch, told The Intercept. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”
Fox News reached out to Google for comment and received the following statement from a spokesperson on Sunday:
“We've been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”
Back in August, more than a dozen human rights groups sent Google CEO Sundar Pichai a letter asking him to explain how Google was safeguarding Chinese users from censorship and surveillance.
The search giant told Fox News at the time that it had been “been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”
In 2010, Google announced it was leaving China, mentioning the Communist country’s censorship tactics as a reason for its decision.
However, Pichai has said that he wanted the world’s most-used search engine to be in China serving its 800 million Internet users.
Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this report.