White House to Google: Drop Dragonfly, the Censored Chinese Search Engine Project

October 5, 2018, 9:28 PM UTC

Google should stop work on a search engine designed to comply with Chinese censorship rules, said Vice President Mike Pence.

In remarks to a policy institute on the Trump administration’s Chinese policy, Pence said almost in passing, “Google should immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

Google hasn’t publicly acknowledged the existence of this internal effort, which hasn’t been approved by or apparently demonstrated to Chinese authorities. Reports indicated that it’s designed to allow Google to comply with strict rules set by Chinese censors for search results.

Disclosures about Dragonfly have led to dissent among Google employees over the company pursuing a project that some believe run contrary to its stated core principles. Several Google employees have reportedly left the firm over this issue, including at least one senior worker.

In 2010, Google shuttered most of its operations in mainland China, although it continues to operate China-focused sites elsewhere, including in Hong Kong, which maintains a small degree of independence from the rest of the country.

China blocks services run by Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among other popular services. For its homegrown social networks and search engines, the government employs tens of thousands of people to examine microblog and other postings in addition to automated blocking and reporting.

The speech by Pence had the twin goals of expressing a desire to work closely with China, while warning of what he said is the country’s “whole-of-government approach” to expand its influence and interests globally and within the United States. The Trump administration this year has applied tariffs against about half of all goods imported from China into the U.S. due to what President Donald Trump said are unfair trade practices by the nation that dominates Asia.

Pence highlighted a few practices in particular, including a policy that requires firms based in other countries to provide trade secrets to Chinese partners, and what he described as wholesale industrial espionage perpetuated by the government to obtain American civilian and military technology.

Pence also condemned an array of reported human-rights violations, including the Chinese crackdown on the practice of Buddhism, imprisonment of up to a million Uyghurs (an ethnic minority that is largely Muslim), and repression against Christians across denominations.

The vice president praised journalistic investigations of what he described as China “interfering in our society,” and urged more such reporting.