The employee uprising over Google's secret "Project Dragonfly — a plan to release a censored, surveilling search engine for use in China — has reportedly attained its goals: some of the engineers on the covert team Project Dragonfly team have been re-tasked to other projects, and the remainder have been denied access to the critical data-set that made the project possible.
While the project sparked open dissent from thousands of googlers, and waves of resignations, the turning point seems to have been the project's decision to bypass Google's Privacy and Security team, which was described in detail by the departed security engineer Yonatan Zunger; and which led to the creation of a six-figure strike fund raised by Google Site Reliability Engineer Liz Fong-Jones.
The decision to bypass the Security and Privacy team led to Project Dragonfly being denied access to data from 265.com, a large Chinese web-portal that Google bought in 2008; this data was being used as a "honeypot" to help the Dragonfly team tune the censorship systems in their product.
This data was reportedly key to the creation of Project Dragonfly. Now, deprived of this data and with their headcount in decline, the project is — according to internal Google sources — dead.
The internal dispute at Google over the 265.com data access is not the first time important information related to Dragonfly has been withheld from the company's privacy team. The Intercept reported in November that privacy and security employees working on the project had been shut out of key meetings and felt that senior executives had sidelined them. Yonatan Zunger, formerly a 14-year veteran of Google and one of the leading engineers at the company, worked on Dragonfly for several months last year and said the project was shrouded in extreme secrecy and handled in a "highly unusual" way from the outset. Scott Beaumont, Google's leader in China and a key architect of the Dragonfly project, "did not feel that the security, privacy, and legal teams should be able to question his product decisions," according to Zunger, "and maintained an openly adversarial relationship with them — quite outside the Google norm."
Last week, Pichai, Google's CEO, appeared before 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 had originally aimed to launch Dragonfly between January and April 2019. However, leaks about the plan and the extraordinary backlash that ensued both internally and externally appear to have forced company executives to shelve it at least in the short term, two sources familiar with the project said.
Google did not respond to requests for comment.
Google's Secret China Project "Effectively Ended" After Internal Confrontation [Ryan Gallagher/The Intercept]