In short: Google has reportedly been attempting to keep any and all memos or code associated with a secret China-specific variation of Google Search built under the codename “Project Dragonfly,” according to documents viewed by The Intercept. At least one of those memos, in particular, appears to have leaked beyond its intended scope and shared amongst employees that were not intended to have read them, prompting Google to demand deletion of the memo. The company is said to have gone so far as to track the emails to ensure they had been read by recipients. What’s more, when the memo was initially leaked internally on a board dedicated to ethics discussions, it was immediately removed and those who had opened or saved the document were reportedly contacted directly by the company. They were ultimately told not to share the memo.
Background: News about Project Dragonfly has already been appearing with some regularity as well as other reported leaks about projects that are causing some concern among the company’s employees. Among those is the now-defunct Project Maven, which sought to combine Google’s recognition-based machine learning with the military’s drone technology. The company was effectively forced to abandon that project after internal protests occurred, followed by public disclosure of the project. Dragonfly has also been reported as a reason behind machine learning scientist Jack Poulson’s recent departure from the company and Google is already expected to appear before a Senate committee to discuss the matter on September 26.
Meanwhile, Google had initially stated that the project was experimental and not all ready for launch. That’s something which doesn’t quite match up with the purported contents of this memo and others, however. According to internal sources, the company had told those working on the project to have it at a “launch-ready state” within weeks back in July. It also apparently withheld the purpose of the work from many of its 215 project-specific employees.
Impact: The search engine is said to not only blacklist items and search terms specified by the Chinese government such as “human rights” or “peaceful protest.” It also reportedly would send all information on queries back to Chinese authorities and force a user sign-in before a search can be performed. Moreover, the search tool would reportedly go well beyond search, providing access to clicked links, IP addresses, and user movement. With that said, the memo in question will undoubtedly be brought up during that session since at least some of its contents appear to be leaking out alongside reports about the search giant’s attempts to stifle it.