, 28 tweets, 10 min read Read on Twitter
NEW: Google censored China search plan "effectively ended" after major internal dispute. Secret data analysis operation integral to the project shut down after @theintercept exposed it & the company's furious privacy team confronted executives: theintercept.com/2018/12/17/goo… #Dragonfly
Key to this story is 265.com, a Chinese-language web directory service that claims to be “China’s most used homepage.” Google purchased the site in 2008 from Cai Wensheng, a billionaire Chinese entrepreneur.
Unlike most Google-owned websites — such as YouTube & Google.com265.com is not blocked in China & can be freely accessed by people in the country using any standard internet browser. That makes it uniquely valuable for the company.
Records show that 265.com is still hosted on Google servers, but its physical address is listed under the “Beijing Guxiang Information & Technology Co.,” which has an office space on the third floor of a tower building in northwest Beijing’s Haidian district.
As I first reported in August, searches entered on 265.com are redirected to Baidu, the most popular search engine in China & Google’s main competitor in the country. theintercept.com/2018/08/08/goo…
Google has used 265.com as a honeypot for market research, storing information about Chinese users’ searches before sending them along to Baidu.
Under normal Google protocol, reviewing people's search records is subject to tight constraints & review. That was not the case with the 265.com data analysis on Dragonfly.
Quite the opposite -- there was no review at all. Google privacy teams were kept in the dark about it & only found out about it when @theintercept revealed it. The privacy staff were "very pissed" & confronted executives.
Subsequently, access to the 265.com data on was shut down, which had severe consequences for the Dragonfly developers.
“The 265 data was integral to Dragonfly,” said one source familiar w/ the project. “Access to the data has been suspended now, which has stopped progress.”
In November, I reported how Google's privacy teams had been shut out on Dragonfly -- the company said in response that it never "short circuits" the process. That was a lie, as the 265.com debacle shows. theintercept.com/2018/11/29/goo…
After the 265 incident, teams working on Dragonfly were told to use different datasets for their work. They could no longer use search queries from mainland China & instead had to use “global Chinese” queries entered into Google from people living in places like the US & Malaysia
That had huge consequences b/c the "global" queries are qualitatively different from searches originating from within China itself, making it virtually impossible for the Dragonfly team to hone the accuracy of results.
Significantly, several groups of engineers have now been moved off of Dragonfly completely, & told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East & Brazil.
Last week, Google’s CEO @SundarPichai appeared before US Congress, where he faced questions on Dragonfly. Pichai stated that “right now” there were no plans to launch the search engine, though refused to rule it out in the future.
Google originally aimed to launch Dragonfly between Jan-Apr 2019. However, leaks about the plan & the backlash that ensued both internally & externally appear to have forced company executives to shelve it at least in the short term, said two sources w. knowledge of the project.
Bottom line: Dragonfly would still be secret, & slated for 2019 launch, were it not for the actions of principled Google whistleblowers, whose names you'll never know. It's true what they say -- never underestimate the power of a few committed individuals to make change.
Reading back the first story in this series on Google & recalling what a source told me was their reason for coming forward. “I feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest." Safe to say, I think they've been proved right ;-) theintercept.com/2018/08/01/goo…
New statement from @Amnesty on Dragonfly, calling on @SundarPichai to "publicly state that his company will refrain from developing censored search products": amnesty.org/en/latest/news…
Going to tweet a few additional points about my latest story in response to questions. theintercept.com/2018/12/17/goo…
1. The 265 data was integral to Dragonfly. Engineers were relying on it to build the system. Not having access to the 265 data has had the effect of ending work on the project from a technical standpoint.
2. There's also a big political/policy dimension at play. It's not just about 265. The massive backlash over Dragonfly internally & externally influenced the thinking of executives & changed their plans. There was an aim to launch between Jan-Apr 2019 - that's no longer the case.
3. Sources who have worked on the project believe Dragonfly has now been quietly shelved. Groups of engineers are being moved off of DF & told China is no longer a priority. They're now focusing instead on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East & Brazil.
4. It is still possible that @SundarPichai could try to resurrect the project at a later date, once the furor dies down -- next year, the year after, your guess is as good as mine. If circumstances change, I will report that.
5. None of the info I've reported has come from Google's PR dept. The company's PR people do not talk to me. They refuse to answer my emails (seriously) & it's been that way for months. This is not a story leaked by them.
Google has been declining to comment to journalists in response to my latest story. Reminder that the company has not denied a single detail I have published after four months of reporting on Dragonfly & 20+ pieces.
Updated: single page w/ links to all my stories so far on the Google-China saga: notes.rjgallagher.co.uk/2018/08/google… #Dragonfly
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