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Google’s censored Chinese search engine links every search to the user’s phone number

Posted on Saturday, 15th September 2018 @ 02:15 PM by Text Size A | A | A

Google’s Project Dragonfly was a secret prototype search engine intended to pave the way for the company’s return to China; it featured censored search results that complied with Chinese state rules banning searches for topics like “human rights,” “student protest” and “Nobel prize.”

Leaked details of Dragonfly, reported in The Intercept, paint a picture of a search tool that doesn’t merely limit access to information, but also assists Chinese state agents in retaliating against people who sought access to banned information.

In particular, Dragonfly logged each search and associated it with the user’s phone number.

Dragonfly was also reportedly built to help the Chinese authorities falsify pollution data by substituting official numbers for observations made by disinterested parties. Pollution is a fraught political topic in China, with citizens frequently upset over the state’s failure to keep their air breathable. The Chinese government has a history of falsifying pollution data and suppressing independent figures.

 

Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.

“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”

Google China Prototype Links Searches to Phone Numbers [Ryan Gallagher/The Intercept]

Related Articles:

Two days ago, a source leaked the existence of “Project Dragonfly”, a super-secret Google plan to create a censored search-tool for use in China. The Intercept’s blockbuster scoop on the project caught Google’s management flatfooted, with many of the key people involved off on summer holidays.

Google A.I. to write news articles: Technology will “auto-generate” graphics and video for stories. In a little noticed story in July of 2017, it was revealed that a Google grant of €706,000 was given to the United Kingdom’s Press Association to use artificial intelligence to write news articles.

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