Why it matters: Google could have restarted its highly controversial Project Dragonfly which enables censored search results for China. While the proof isn't definitive, if evidence mounts that Google really is continuing work on Dragonfly, it could further strain trust for the company and cause even more backlash.
Last year, Google was reportedly working on a censored search engine for China under the codename Dragonfly. This search engine would not show results from queries dealing with any "forbidden" topics such as democracy, religion, or human rights. Facing immense backlash, the company seemed to kill that effort although Google CEO Sundar Pichai was evasive when questioned by Congress. However, some Google employees think that Dragonfly may be very much alive.
Per a report by The Intercept, a group of Google employees have discovered that about 900 changes to the Dragonfly codebase were made between December and February despite the apparent shutdown of the project.
When Google supposedly halted Dragonfly, employees working on the project were told to finish their work before being reallocated to other teams. However, at least 100 employees are still linked to Dragonfly via budget items. Although to be fair, the code changes and budget items could be leftover from after Dragonfly was ended.
Google vehemently denied that it was still working on Dragonfly in a statement to The Verge:
"This speculation is wholly inaccurate. Quite simply: there’s no work happening on Dragonfly. 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."
China has been the focal point of many tech companies recently. Both Apple and Google see China as a way to grow their business. Unfortunately, the Chinese government's tight control over the country's internet has hindered Google in particular from expanding into China. Google was hoping that appeasing the Chinese government would allow it access to the country.
Google employees responded by signing an open letter demanding that the company cancel the project as it would "establish a dangerous precedent." Vice President Mike Pence also blasted Google claiming it would "strengthen Communist Party censorship."
Opponents of Dragonfly would also point to the Chinese government's "social credit" system. The country has already banned millions of people from buying plane or train tickets because of a low social credit score. Imagine if you received a low score for searching for prohibited terms using Dragonfly. Enabling this capability may further strain trust in Google considering its own propensity for scooping up data on its users.