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Google CEO confirms that the company is building a search engine that caters to Chinese censorship

The CEO of Google confirmed that his company was developing a search engine that complied with Chinese government censorship standards. Google CEO Sundar Pichai publicly announced Monday that work was well underway on a project dubbed "Dragonfly." (LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)

The CEO of Google has confirmed that his company is developing a version of its popular search engine that would comply with the Chinese government's strict censorship guidelines.

What did the CEO say?

On Monday, during an event hosted by Wired, Google CEO Sundar Pichai publicly announced that work was well underway on a project dubbed "Dragonfly," a version of the search engine that would be acceptable to the Chinese government.

“If Google were to operate in China, what would it look like? What queries will we be able to serve?” Pichai said. “It turns out we’ll be able to serve well over 99 percent of the queries.”

Pichai argued that while it wasn't optimal to have the government control what people could search, he thought that the benefits outweighed the bad. He pointed to searches that Chinese citizens might run for potential cancer treatments.

“Today people either get fake cancer treatments or they actually get useful information,” he argued.

He downplayed criticism of his company's decision, arguing “people don't understand fully, but you're always balancing a set of values,” he said, adding “but we also follow the rule of law in every country.”

What else?

While this is the first time that Google is admitting the existence of this project publicly, it has admitted it internally before. In August, Pichai confirmed to employees that the project existed, but that it was still in an early “exploratory” stage. However, leaked reports at the time suggested that the project was actually much further along. At this point, all but a few hundred of Google's 88,000 employees were reportedly unaware of Project Dragonfly.

This also isn't Google's first foray into the world of Chinese censored search engines. The company had a version of its search engine running in China in 2006. However, it would remove that version in 2010, citing the government's “efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems,”

China is incredibly strict when it comes to censorship and silencing any form of dissent.

A popular social media star was even jailed last week for singing the national anthem while wearing fake moose horns, which the government viewed as “disrespectful.” She would later apologize for the “stupid mistake” of harming “the motherland, the fans, and the platform.”

What are critics saying?

Google has faced criticism for Dragonfly, both externally and from its own employees. Hundreds of Google employees signed a letter in August protesting the move.

On Oct. 4, Vice President Mike Pence urged Google to stop work on the project, saying that its implementation could "strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

CNN host Jake Tapper censored the word "don't" out of Google's former unofficial motto "don't be evil" to illustrate the implications of the move. Google removed that phrase from its code of conduct in April or May.

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