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- Google finally said that it is killing the censored search engine it had been building for China, known internally as Project Dragonfly.
- “Yes, we have terminated that,” Karan Bhatia, Google’s VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, said at Tuesday’s Senate hearing entitled, “Google and Censorship through Search Engines.”
- The announcement comes two days after tech billionaire Peter Thiel said Google had been “seemingly treasonous” for its decision to work with China’s military and not the US military.
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For months, Google has danced around questions regarding the status of its censored search engine for China, but in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, one of its executives seemed to put the official kibosh on the project.
“Yes, we have terminated that,” Karan Bhatia, Google’s VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, said in a line of questioning from Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, regarding Google’s recent efforts to build a search engine for the Chinese market – referred to internally at the tech giant as Project Dragonfly.
The proclamation comes more than six months after Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress that it had “no plans to launch a search service in China,” but wouldn’t shut the door on the efforts completely. “It’s a limited effort internally currently,” Pichai said at the time.
More recently in June, Pichai told CNN that the company had “no plans” to launch a search engine in China. Still, a more definitive answer to the tech giant’s plans in China has been called for by lawmakers, stockholders, and human rights groups alike.
Bhatia’s response, amid hard-hitting questions from senators on Tuesday, appears to put to rest any outstanding questions about the project.
And it comes at the right time for Google.
On Sunday, tech billionaire Peter Thiel said during a speech at the National Conservatism conference that the Silicon Valley giant had been “seemingly treasonous” for its decision to work with the Chinese military and not the US military. Thiel was referencing Google’s censored search engine it had been building for China (Project Dragonfly) and the artificial intelligence contract it canceled with US Department of Defense (known as Project Maven).
Publicly squashing Dragonfly could help stifle the controversy being stirred up by Thiel, which included calling the FBI and CIA to launch an investigation into the company.
A ‘perfect storm’ for big tech
Among questions being thrown at the government affairs official on Tuesday included whether or not Google services or private data had been infiltrated by the Chinese government.
“Absolutely not,” Bhatia said. “We take extremely seriously the threat of any penetration of our systems.”
Most questions, however, focused on censorship not on foreign soil, but on conservative users in the US. Google has been subject to claims that its search results and decisions to ban certain content and commentators on its video platform YouTube are inherently biased and meant to quiet conservative voices. In June, President Trump told Fox Business Network that Google (along with Facebook) should be sued for bias towards conservatives.
Bhatia repeatedly denied that political ideology amongst Google’s leadership plays a role in its algorithms or product decisions.
Still, Senators during Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee meeting, entitled “Google and Censorship through Search Engines,” called on the Silicon Valley giant for more changes.
“Big tech, most particularly Google, is in the middle of a perfect storm,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said. “I hope you’re thinking radically about the role and responsibility you have in society, which I think it has to be changed.”