This past August, a report surfaced claiming that Google was working on a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market and was preparing to launch it by April 2019. A few months later, another report has popped up indicating that the China-focused search engine has been canceled.

According to The Intercept:

The internal rift over the system has had massive ramifications, effectively ending work on the censored search engine, known as Dragonfly, according to two sources familiar with the plans. The incident represents a major blow to top Google executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, who have over the last two years made the China project one of their main priorities.

Google was using a website called "265.com" in Beijing to help build its censored search engine. 265 is said to be "China's most used homepage" and was purchased by Google in 2008. People use 265 to find news, deals on flights/hotels, horoscopes, and can search for things similar to how Google Search works.

Googlers were using data from 265 to build the search engine. As The Intercept explains:

According to two Google sources, engineers working on Dragonfly obtained large datasets showing queries that Chinese people were entering into the 265.com search engine. At least one of the engineers obtained a key needed to access an "application programming interface," or API, associated with 265.com, and used it to harvest search data from the site. Members of Google's privacy team, however, were kept in the dark about the use of 265.com.

That last bit there about there privacy team not being kept in the loop about Dragonfly is what apparently caused the project to fizzle out. The Intercept notes that:

In recent weeks, teams working on Dragonfly have been told to use different datasets for their work. They are no longer gathering search queries from mainland China and are instead now studying "global Chinese" queries that are entered into Google from people living in countries such as the United States and Malaysia; those 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, and told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Brazil.

Sundar Pichai was asked about whether or not Google was working on a censored search engine for China during his testimony in front of Congress on December 11, to which he replied, "right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China."

It was already evident that the public response to this news back in August wasn't very positive, and now with Google's privacy team learning about it, it's not much of a surprise that Google's placing a hold on Dragonfly. It's unclear if/when it'll be brought back out, but at least for the meantime, Google's presence in China doesn't appear to be changing.

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