Google's prototype search engine for China reportedly ties search data to phone numbers

Eight years after shutting down its search tool dedicated to the Chinese market, Google seems to have recently found a way to re-enter that country with a censored version of its search engine. However, the prototype search, dubbed Dragonfly, is raising the eyebrows of human rights advocates this early due to its privacy implications.

According to a new report by The Intercept, Dragonfly is designed to associate users' search data with their phone numbers so that it's hard to avoid censorship by the Chinese government, known for its relentless crackdown on dissenting views in the country. The custom search engine is meant to work on Android devices, with a built-in roster of blacklisted terms like “human rights” and "Nobel Prize," among other censored words and phrases in Mandarin.

Citing sources familiar with the project, The Intercept claims Google and an unnamed company based in mainland China will operate Dragonfly as part of a joint venture. Additionally, the undisclosed Chinese firm will have the authority to expand the list of censored terms.

In addition to several privacy issues surrounding the Google search engine for China, there are concerns over accuracy as well. According to the same sources, Dragonfly includes a built-in system intended to supplant the actual weather and air pollution data with a set of government-provided information, possibly enabling Beijing to manipulate data about the country's real pollution plight.

With the custom search engine, it would be easy for the Chinese government to track people's search activities and interrogate individuals found to be looking for censored information related to democracy and free speech. While Dragonfly may ensure Google's expansion in the Chinese market, it could cast doubt on the search giant's commitment to privacy.

Source: The Intercept

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