Exclusive: Google Rep Plays Coy About Future of Project Dragonfly

You can’t hide what we already know.

On January 19, 2019, Google employee Max Pappas, manager of Google’s External Outreach and Public Policy Partnerships, gave a speech at LibertyCon 2019 titled “Why Permissionless Innovation Needs to be Defended” in front of a crowd of libertarian students and other attendees in order to paint Google as a defender and advocate for access to the beneficial world of opportunity the internet provides.

After the twenty-five minute speech, Pappas moved to another room in the Marriot Marquis hotel to take questions from those who attended his talk and wanted to expand the conversation. Just a day prior, according to reporter Ryan Gallagher at The Intercept, “a coalition of Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, and human rights groups organized demonstrations outside Google’s offices in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark.” This international series of protests was sparked by Google’s involvement with the Chinese government regarding a secret program designated Project Dragonfly. Gallagher continued stating that “Google designed the Chinese search engine, code-named Dragonfly, to blacklist information about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, in accordance with strict rules on censorship in China that are enforced by the country’s authoritarian Communist Party government.”

After months of continued investigations by journalists and protests from a minority of higher-up Google employees, on December 17, 2018, Google “effectively ended” development of Project Dragonfly not because of public outcry, but because of a lack of resources according to Google CEO Sunder Pichai. The news became public during Pichai’s appearance before a Congressional committee in December 2018, stating that while Project Dragonfly had been canceled “right now,” he would not go on record to rule out that similar projects between Google and other authoritarian governments would be off the table if it meant access to newer markets.

Pichai on several occasions prior to the December hearing issued statements regarding Project Dragonfly, among them, being that “we’re not close to launching search in China.” As one anonymous source for The Intercept put it, Pichai’s statement was “bullshit.”

While Pichai tried to lower tensions between Google, the US Government, and concerned users, Gallagher further explained that “Google employees who worked on Dragonfly previously told The Intercept that company executives brushed aside human rights concerns during development of the search engine and related smartphone apps.” Since the exposure of Project Dragonfly, Google has instituted new ethics courses for employees, but outside observers see this as a way to cover up their true intentions.

During Pappas’ Q & A session after his speech, I asked him publicly whether Google reflected on the backlash they received as a result of the exposure of Project Dragonfly. “What are you talking about?” Pappas replied. I elaborated on my question asking how a company that prides itself on free enterprise and human advancement, could in good conscious, work to help the Communist government of China develop a tool to censor an individual’s access to information even more than it is currently in China. Upon asking who my sources regarding Project Dragonfly were, I cited the evidence provided by The Intercept, the Media Research Center, and statements issued by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sunder Pichai. Pappas replied to my answer stating that the information provided by the sources I referenced were “false” and “not factual.”

When I asked Pappas to clarify what specifically I said happened to be incorrect, he stated that he couldn’t properly refute any of the claims by Gallagher or others and that in terms of his knowledge of Project Dragonfly, “I know as much as you know.”

An October 2018 report from Breitbart shows that Pappas’ avoidance of the topic is systematic within Google as employees and representatives are trying everything they can in order to keep it as tight-lipped as possible in hope that this topic quietly goes away.

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