Google has halted a data collection project in China and struck a major blow to the controversial Dragonfly project, according to a new report from The Intercept. According to the report, Google is still researching Chinese web searches in an effort to launch a search engine that complies with the country’s censorship regime, although an official launch seems to have been indefinitely postponed. But in the face of widespread opposition within the company, Google executives shuttered one of the project’s most central data sources, making the ongoing work far more difficult.
In August, The Intercept reported that Google had set up a dummy search engine at 265.com as a way of researching the Chinese market. Any queries made through 265 would be redirected to the Chinese Baidu search engine, so it wasn’t very useful as a product — but it gave Google a valuable window into what Chinese users would be likely to search for. It also generated significant internal concerns, with many employees seeing the site as a signal for Google’s advanced Chinese ambitions.
According to the new report, 265 was shut down shortly, and the remaining Dragonfly team is facing significant difficulties advancing the project without the data source. In the months that followed, Dragonfly has become a flashpoint for employee protests within Google, with more than 400 Google employees signing a letter in opposition to the project. A separate group of employees signed a similar letter in support of the project.
Google’s work in China was a topic of interest when CEO Sundar Pichai appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last week. Prodded by lawmakers, Pichai repeatedly said the company had “no plans” to launch a search product in China — a statement that’s consistent with ongoing development with no official release date.