The first bits of information about Project ‘Dragonfly’ first came to light in 2018 when it was revealed that Google was working on a Chinese search engine, which was meant to work as a filter that would censor information the Chinese government considered unpalatable, for one reason or another.
The search engine was designed to remove websites that had information on free speech, negative references towards authoritarian governments, certain historical events and other similar subjects.
The project has been under fire ever since, drawing numerous criticisms from both the public as well as from around 1,400 Google employees who sent a signed letter which they sent to the company’s leadership, in protest.
Further down the line, Amnesty International also got involved and organized its own protest, while the Congress demanded Google CEO Sundar Pichai to come in and answer a few questions.
Now, at long last, Google seems to have caved under the pressure and, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that took place on Tuesday, Google’s Vice-President of Pubic Policy, Kara Bhatia, has stated that the company ‘terminated’ the project.
“We have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project.” a Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, when asked if they meant the project was being terminated for good or was simply being shelved for the time being.
It’s unclear however if the project was dropped specifically because the pressure that was exerted against it or if Google was met with some internal developments it could not or was not willing to deal with. Regardless, the company did not explicitly state that it would stop creating software for China.
This is not the first time Google comes under fire as far as the projects it is working on go: the tech giant also revealed it was working on a contract with the Pentagon called Project Maven, around the same time the news of Dragonfly first came out.
The project raised a number of ethical concerns as it was meant to aid military drones classify objects and people faster than before. The use of AI in drone warfare and warfare in general is a very delicate topic and the implications that came along with it were something some of the Google employees did not want to associate themselves with.
Project Maven saw about 4,000 Google employees speaking out against it and a dozen of them taking a more drastic decision and resigning.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project -again a Pentagon contract- saw a similar reaction from the company’s employees and the general public.
Google withdrew from that particular bid shortly after the news broke out but denied that employee pressure had anything to do with it, stating that, in reality, the company “determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.”