Courtesy of Ann Rose Lawrence, H/T Tony Mo . . . . .
H/T - Tony Modugno
The objective, code-named Dragonfly, was to build a search engine for China that would censor broad categories of information about human rights, democracy, and peaceful protest.
THE SECRECY SURROUNDING the work was unheard of at Google. It was not unusual for planned new products to be closely guarded ahead of launch. But this time was different. The objective, code-named Dragonfly, was to build a search engine for China that would censor broad categories of information about human rights, democracy, and peaceful protest.
In February 2017, during one of the first group meetings about Dragonfly at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in California, some of those present were left stunned by what they heard. Senior executives disclosed that the search system’s infrastructure would be reliant upon a Chinese partner company with data centers likely in Beijing or Shanghai.
Locating core parts of the search system on the Chinese mainland meant that people’s search records would be easily accessible to China’s authoritarian government, which has broad surveillance powers that it routinely deploys to target activists, journalists, and political opponents.
Yonatan Zunger, then a 14-year veteran of Google and one of the leading engineers at the company, was among a small group who had been asked to work on Dragonfly. He was present at some of the early meetings and said he pointed out to executives managing the project that Chinese people could be at risk of interrogation or detention if they were found to have used Google to seek out information banned by the government.
Scott Beaumont, Google’s head of operations in China and one of the key architects of Dragonfly, did not view Zunger’s concerns as significant enough to merit a change of course, according to four people who worked on the project. Beaumont and other executives then shut out members of the company’s security and privacy team from key meetings about the search engine, the four people said, and tried to sideline a privacy review of the plan that sought to address potential human rights abuses.
Zunger — who left his position at Google last year — is one of the four people who spoke to The Intercept for this story. He is the first person with direct involvement in Dragonfly to go on the record about the project. The other three who spoke to The Intercept are still employed by Google and agreed to share information on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Their accounts provide extraordinary insight into how Google bosses worked to suppress employee criticism of the censored search engine and reveal deep fractures inside the company over the China plan dating back almost two years.
Google’s leadership considered Dragonfly so sensitive that they would often communicate only verbally about it and would not take written notes during high-level meetings to reduce the paper trail, two sources said. Only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 workforce were briefed about the censorship plan. Some engineers and other staff who were informed about the project were told that they risked losing their jobs if they dared to discuss it with colleagues who were themselves not working on Dragonfly.
“They [leadership] were determined to prevent leaks about Dragonfly from spreading through the company,” said a current Google employee with knowledge of the project. “Their biggest fear was that internal opposition would slow our operations.”
IN 2016, a handful of Google executives — including CEO Sundar Pichai and former search chief John Giannandrea — began discussing a blueprint for the censored search engine. But it was not until early 2017 that engineers were brought on board to begin developing a prototype of the platform. The search engine was designed to comply with the strict censorship regime imposed by China’s ruling Communist Party, blacklisting thousands of words and phrases, including terms such as “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize.” It was developed as an app for Android and iOS devices, and would link people’s search records to their personal cellphone number and track their location. (Giannandrea could not be reached for comment.)
The company managed to keep the plan secret for more than 18 months — until The Intercept disclosed it in August. Subsequently, a coalition of 14 leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, condemned the censored search engine, which they said could result in Google “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations.” Employees who opposed the censorship staged protests inside the company. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators called Dragonfly “deeply troubling,” and Vice President Mike Pence demanded that Google “immediately end” its development. >>>
IMAGE 3 -- John Giannandrea, Google’s Senior Vice President of Engineering
IMAGE 4 - Sundar Pichai, Google C.E.O.
IMAGE 5 - Scott Beaumont, President of Google Greater China.