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Google had hoped to launch Dragonfly in ‘six to nine months’, according to leaked transcript of internal meeting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 2:29pm

Google considered its Project Dragonfly censored Chinese search product as a means to reach “the next billion users” and was hoping for a launch in “six to nine months” although the future was “unpredictable”, according to a leaked transcript of a July 18 internal meeting.

Ben Gomes, Google’s search engine chief, told employees that China was “arguably the most interesting market in the world today” and that Google needed to be there, according to the transcript published on Tuesday by The Intercept.

“It’s not just a one-way street. China will teach us things that we don’t know,” Gomes said. “We have built a set of hacks and we have kept them. If there is a way to sort of freeze some of it, so it can be brought off the shelf and quickly deployed while we are dripping it all out, and changing it, we should take the long-term view.”

Project Dragonfly was earlier reported to be the code name for Google’s secret mission to develop a censored search app specifically for China, which would blacklist websites on human rights, democracy, religion and other issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, according to a report published in August by The Intercept.

A spokeswoman for Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the leaked transcript.

In August Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said that plans to re-enter China with a search engine were “exploratory” and in the “early stages”, according to Bloomberg.

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In the leaked transcript from July 18 Gomes, who joined Google in 1999 and took charge of search operations in April this year, said: “There is a huge binary difference between being launched and not launched. And so we want to be careful that we don’t miss that window if it ever comes.”

Last month Google publicly confirmed for the first time the existence of Project Dragonfly but a company executive told the US Senate he did not know details of the project.

“There is a Project Dragonfly,” Google’s chief privacy officer Keith Enright told a Senate hearing on Wednesday, but maintained that he was “not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of the scope for that project”.

“My understanding is that we’re not close to launching a search product in China, and whether we eventually could, or would, remains unclear,” Enright said repeatedly in response to lawmakers’ questions regarding the company’s plan for a China-focused search engine and its implications for censorship and human rights.

The privacy chief added that if plans to launch a search product for China were in the final stages, he and his team would already be actively engaged in conducting privacy reviews to ensure the product adhered to Google’s privacy values.

“Any product we launch anywhere in the world will reflect our values and commitment we made to our users,” Enright said.