China is home to the world’s largest censorship regime. The government spends billions of dollars censoring the internet so Chinese citizens remain unaware of global events, of historical events, and even weather and smog data. The reasoning behind such intense censorship and control is put in place so the current political forces can remain in power.
Any company that wants to operate within China must play by the rules and share data with the government. Companies like Apple that value privacy have even bowed down to China, removing applications from the iOS store due to government requests. Most VPNs in China are removed from the iOS store, and this is only one form of censorship we’ve seen in the past years.
What is Google Dragonfly?
From 2006 to 2010, Google ran a “censored” version of Google in China, but pulled out since Google co-founder Sergey Brin pushed the company to exit due to “some earmarks of totalitarianism” which troubled him. Now, in 2018, however, it looks like Google might be willing to put up with even more totalitarianism in order to make more money.
This re-entrance to China, comes in the form of Google Dragonfly–a new controversial project that has quite literally, set the internet on fire. Dragonfly is a secret Google project to design Google to be censorship complaint and surveillance friendly for China. The new Dragonfly Google app helps the censorship machine in China since it would link phone numbers to search results to help the Chinese government isolate users based on what they are searching.
The new app would also be feature rich, and let the Chinese government enter in any form of blacklisted content to censor results that could include keywords like “protest”, “smog”, “Nobel Prize”, or even words like “protest”.
Not only that, but the Dragonfly project would also use specific information provided only from specific sources, which means that the data can easily be monopolized and controlled by the government. Take for example, weather data, which is rumored to be sourced from only one specific unnamed source in Beijing.
Negative Response to Dragonfly?
The response to Google’s Dragonfly has been unanimously negative. So much so that, even some Google employee’s like Jack Poulson–a senior data scientist at Google–have quit the company for ethical reasons.
“Due to my conviction that dissent is fundamental to functioning democracies, I am forced to resign, in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the erosion of protection for dissidents,” writes Poulson, in his resignation letter.
Poulson believes that if Google designs this app for China, it could embolden other countries to request similarly designed applications and search engine censorship, which would only empower censorship and internet control around the world.
“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,” Poulson wrote. “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.”
Dragonfly a Failed Secret?
If Dragonfly sounds so bad, how did information get out about it? Well, apparently only a few hundred of 88,000 or so employees even knew about Dragonfly–which suggests that Google understands that the project is not something the “ethical” world wants.
However, the information was leaked and now more than 1,400 employees are protesting the development of the app and are demanding an investigation of the project in terms of how it violates human rights and raises ethical issues.
Additionally, members of the US congress have issues with Dragonfly and how Google is conducting itself internationally and what the implications of censorship designed applications could have. A letter to Google from democrats and republicans inquired about the possibility of Americans living in China that could be surveilled or targeted through Google apps.
Other employees have also quit after learning about the development of Dragonfly. Here at TorGuard VPN, we have seen many governments attempt to break the internet, but so far it seems like a handful of powerful companies in Silicon Valley are intent on controlling the flow of information worldwide.