Google censorship program in China Project Dragonfly shocks employees and human rights activists

Google has developed a program which censors its search engine for China codenamed and the controversial program is codename “Dragonfly.” What it does is to link users’ search history to their personal phone numbers, according to media reports. Internal documents leaked to journalists described how the search platform can block internet users in China from seeing web pages that discuss human rights, peaceful protests, democracy and other topics blacklisted by China ’s government.This occurrence has been controversial both outside and inside Google. According to a report in this week’s TechTimes, seven employees left their jobs at Google to protest Project Dragonfly as the project was created to prevent content that China’s government sees as sensitive or contrary to the Governments interest. Senior Google scientist Jack Paulson quit the company to protest Project Dragonfly. “I view our intent to capitulate to censorship and surveillance demands in exchange for access to the Chinese market as a forfeiture of our values and governmental negotiating position across the globe. There is an all-too-real possibility that other nations will attempt to leverage our actions in China in order to demand our compliance with their security demands,” Poulson said in his resignation letter.Some feel Google has “lost its moral compass” to enrich shareholders.  This April, thousands of Google employees protested the company’s military contract with the Pentagon —project Maven — which developed technology to analyze drone video footage that could potentially identify human targets.Last month, more than a dozen human rights groups sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking him to explain what Google is doing to safeguard users from the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance.It says the company’s secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship as representing “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights.”

“The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China.”

The letter was signed by groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.

In particular, Dragonfly logged each search and associated it with the user’s phone number.

Dragonfly was also reportedly built to help the Chinese authorities falsify pollution data by substituting official numbers for observations made by disinterested parties. Pollution is a fraught political topic in China, with citizens frequently upset over the state’s failure to keep their air breathable. The Chinese government has a history of falsifying pollution data and suppressing independent figures.

Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.

“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”