“WE HAVE TO be focused on what we want to enable,” said Ben Gomes, Google’s search engine chief. “And then when the opening happens, we are ready for it.”
It was Wednesday, July 18, and Gomes was addressing a team of Google employees who were working on a secretive project to develop a censored search engine for China, which would blacklist phrases like “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize.”
“You have taken on something extremely important to the company,” Gomes declared, according to a transcript of his comments obtained by The Intercept. “I have to admit it has been a difficult journey. But I do think a very important and worthwhile one. And I wish ourselves the best of luck in actually reaching our destination as soon as possible.”
Gomes joked about the unpredictability of President Donald Trump and groaned about the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, which has slowed down Google’s negotiations with Communist Party officials in Beijing, whose approval Google requires to launch the censored search engine.
Gomes, who joined Google in 1999 and is one of the key engineers behind the company’s search engine, said he hoped the censored Chinese version of the platform could be launched within six and nine months, but it could be sooner. “This is a world none of us have ever lived in before,” he said. “So I feel like we shouldn’t put too much definite into the timeline.”
It has been two months since The Intercept first revealed details about the censored search engine, code-named Dragonfly. Since then, the project has faced a wave of criticism from human rights groups, Google employees, U.S. senators, and even Vice President Mike Pence, who on Thursday last week called on Google to “immediately end development of the Dragonfly app that will strengthen the Communist Party’s censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”
Google has refused to answer questions or concerns about Dragonfly. On Sept. 26, a Google executive faced public questions on the censorship plan for the first time. Keith Enright told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that there “is a Project Dragonfly,” but said “we are not close to launching a product in China.” When pressed to give specific details, Enright refused, saying that he was “not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope for that project.”
Douglas MacMillan and Robert McMillan report:
Google exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users of the Google+ social network and then opted not to disclose the issue this past spring, in part because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage, according to people briefed on the incident and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
In “The Good Censor”, an 85-page briefing leaked to Breitbart News from inside Google, the company blames a range of user behavior including ‘cyber harassment,’ ‘cyber racism’ and ‘venting’ for eroding ‘utopian’ belief in online free speech.
The briefing identifies “users behaving badly” as one of the reasons for tech companies’ “shift toward censorship.” It can be read in full here.
Responding to the leak, an official Google source said the document should be considered internal research, and not an official company position.
On pages 25-35, the document runs through a list of “bad behaviors” that Google uses to explain the rise of Silicon Valley censorship. One of the behaviors identified by Google is people simply expressing their feelings.
“When they’re angry, people vent their frustrations. But whereas people used to tell friends and family about bad experiences, the internet now provides a limitless audience for our gripes.”
(Reuters) – At least two U.S. states and two European Union member states are investigating a breach at Alphabet Inc’s Google that may have exposed private profile data of at least 500,000 users to hundreds of external developers.