Google China: Project Dragonfly on hold?

Chauncey: All right, welcome back to the Being Found Show. We’re going to talk a little bit
about the news, as we do at the end of the show here, stuff in technology.
Earlier this year, we talked a little bit about Project Dragonfly, coming out of
Google. Jake, why don’t you give us the rundown on what Project Dragonfly
was.

Jake: Well, it was Google making a search engine for the Chinese government so that
they could, I guess, control the information that their people are getting. So
that’s what it was. Of course, China’s government has never been known for
being … How can I put this? Not evil. So a lot of people started saying, hey,
should you guys be doing this? Should you guys be helping this
government do this?

As more information … It was a very secretive project and a lot of things in
Google are. The further it went, the more people said, hey, this doesn’t seem
right. Ultimately, so many … It got enough attention that a lot of employees
within Google decided they were going to quit unless Google dropped this. The
CEO attempted to defend it for a while, and ultimately decided that it wasn’t
worth it, and the project was scrapped.

Chauncey: So, basically, quick rundown, Google was going to make a search engine that
helped the Chinese government keep information from their people.
Due to protests and employee walkouts and everything.

Dragonfly (search engine) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

According to press reports, Dragonfly is an Internet search engine app being prototyped by Google that is designed to be compatible with China’s state censorship provisions. Unlike a previous search engine designed by Google for use in China, Dragonfly would not notify users that results or search terms have been censored. The public learned of Dragonfly’s existence in August 2018, when The Intercept leaked an internal memo written by a Google employee about the project. Months later, Dragonfly had “effectively been shut down” after a clash with the members of the privacy team within Google. Source: Wikipedia

Jake: Yeah, big protests. So Google’s… I think their catchphrase used to be, “Don’t be evil,” and so a lot of people tried to use that, saying, hey, this is clearly against our core value. Just to give you a little indication of what this would have done, here’s from an article on Slate. So I’ll just read the paragraph really quickly.

Google has Project Dragonfly under wraps. The search engine reportedly would block websites having to do with democracy and political dissidents and would blacklist terms like human rights. One of the prototypes also reportedly has the capability to link searches to user’s phone numbers. China has this thing called a social scorecard.

Chauncey: Right, I just watched a documentary video.

Jake: Yeah, so they grade you as a person on how much you fit into their
Chinese jello mold. If you get too far out, they put you in a pig pen.

Chauncey: This documentary I was watching had this nice little old lady walking
around with the equivalent of a composition notebook and a pen, basically
trying to catch people doing good and bad so that she could reward them.

Everybody’s just all, hey, and then there was this one guy who would cosign for
a friend with a loan, and the friend had defaulted on the lone. He was out of
town, and his score went down so that he couldn’t take the plane home.

He ended up having to take the bus because he wasn’t allowed to take the plane because
his friend that he had co-signed with had defaulted on the loan, even though all
his payments were up.

One way to get your score back up was by donating money to the poor, but really they’re just going into this government building and giving them their money, and they don’t know where this money’s going, other than raising their scores.

Why are people upset about launching a search engine in China?

  • The “great firewall” of China is notorious for not allowing its citizens access to all the content available on the internet.
  • Some popular social sites are blocked outright, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Certain historical topics such as the Tienanmen Square protests are also completely blocked.
  • References to political opposition are also banned as are those to free speech and sex.

Jake: I read earlier this year … I don’t know how it turned out. Apparently, so in one
of the Marvel movies that came out a few years ago, a Chinese actress was one
of the characters in that. She said some nice things about capitalism and
disappeared. I don’t know if they found here.

Chauncey: Oh, right. They did end up finding her.

Jake: Oh, they did?

Chauncey: Yeah, but she was gone for three months.

Jake: It’s like, well, bizarre.

Chauncey: Yeah, that is very, very bizarre and disturbing and weird. So Americans here in
this new year, enjoy your partisan fights and everything because you get to
have them. Look back on your Christmas dinner and the fight between the kids
and the grandparents with fondness, because that does not happen other
places.

Thank you for listening to this segment of the Being Found Show, to hear the full show listen here: Being Found Show Episode #69 or subscribe to our Podcast.