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Google has “terminated” its project to build a search engine for China

Google dragonfly
Google dragonfly
Google dragonflychiccabubble from the Noun Project | Erin Winick

The year-long project to build a censored search engine for the Chinese market, dubbed Project Dragonfly, had been heavily criticized in the US.

The news: Google executive Karan Bhatia testified at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that it has ended the program. “We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” he said. 

The Intercept reported the project had “effectively ended” in December 2018, and Google confirmed this to The Verge in March, but some Google employees believed the company was continuing to work on it anyway. This is the first public confirmation that it has been abandoned.

What was it? A search engine for China that would reportedly have linked users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, making it harder to avoid official surveillance. It would have operated as part of a joint venture with an unnamed Chinese partner. The search engine would have been required to blacklist certain search terms.

Once bitten, twice shy: It’s easy to see the appeal of pushing into China for Google: it’s the single biggest market for internet users anywhere. However, it would be a very tricky relationship to manage, especially in the context of US concerns over censorship, plus the trade war and tensions between the US and China. Google launched a search engine in China once before, in 2006, but it exited the Chinese market in 2010 after it was hacked. And even if Google is still interested in China, it’s far from clear that China is open to allowing Google back in.  

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