When Google employees discovered last August to their horror that the company had been secretly working on a censored search engine ("Project Dragonfly) for use in China, the company assured them that this was only an early-stage prototype and nowhere near launching.
But now a leaked transcript of a July 18 presentation by search chief Ben Gomes has the executive congratulating the Project Dragonfly team and predicting launch in six to nine months, and holding out the possibility of a launch in as little as three months.
On September 23, Gomes lied to a BBC reporter and said that Dragonfly was just a plan on the drawing board, saying "all we’ve done is some exploration" and "we don’t have any plans to launch something."
This lie apparently prompted angry googlers to leak the transcript of Gomes's remarks to The Intercept. Gomes refused to comment to the Intercept and when they called him, he twice claimed that the connection was so bad that he couldn't understand their questions.
This week, Google announced that it was taking itself out of the running for a $10B Pentagon IT project after an uprising by its engineering staff.
Project Dragonfly has also cost Google key engineers and has been the source of mass discontent inside the company, especially when news broke that the censored tool was designed to personally identify searchers who looked up banned topics like "student protests" and "democracy" and to deliver these identities to China's security establishment.
And so the opportunity there is — all of you will know this, but — it’s clearly the biggest opportunity to serve more people that we have. And if you take our mission seriously, that’s where our key focus should be. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Many of these things are not easy, and you all know this now from personal experience. Also given the political climate. The future is very unpredictable. Six to nine months [to launch]. But we couldn’t have predicted the last three days of politics, let alone the last year of politics, [or] the last two or three years of politics. So we just don’t know what the future holds in some ways. We have to be focused on what we want to enable, and then when the opening happens we are ready for it.
And you guys have been working in that capacity and it’s not easy. We are working with you to make sure your careers are not affected by this. The difficult part is to maintain motivation on such a long haul. But that’s true of many difficult and worthwhile journeys. To maintain that motivation along the way, so that when you do reach that goal, it’s all the sweeter. I also want to say — I didn’t expect we’d be able to make the changes from a search perspective that we’ve been able to. So I think there’s a slide on this? There are improvements, and I thought that because we didn’t have all the signals from China, I thought we may make marginal progress and we’ll do our best. But you guys … this is really pretty amazing to me that we made this much progress. … When you begin to pay attention to things, things really do get a lot better, and the coverage, the improvements the team has made, I am so grateful for the work you have put in.
Leaked Transcript of Private Meeting Contradicts Google’s Official Story on China [Ryan Gallagher/The Intercept]