It would appear as though Google's Dragonfly project never actually went away as the company claimed, and is now simply being developed in secret – this, according to company insiders who decided to carry out their own private investigation into the matter.
According to The Intercept, these sources inside Google got tired of getting the runaround from Google executives, who've become increasingly less transparent about what's really going on with Dragonfly. So they decided to take matters into their own hands, only to discover that the source code for Dragonfly is still being altered well into 2019.
Engineers and others who had previously been working on Dragonfly were told back in December by Google's Caesar Sengupta, an executive in charge of the project, that they would soon be allocated to new projects funded by different "cost centers" – meaning they would no longer be tasked with any work related to Dragonfly. But despite being moved, these employees say that someone is still working on the project, even if it's not them.
"The employees have been keeping tabs on repositories of code that are stored on Google's computers, which they say is linked to Dragonfly," writes Ryan Gallagher for The Intercept about the situation.
"The employees identified about 500 changes to the code in December, and more than 400 changes to the code between January and February of this year, which they believe indicates continued development of aspects of Dragonfly," he further explains, adding that "[t]he employees say there are still some 100 workers allocated to the 'cost center' associated with Dragonfly, meaning that the company is maintaining a budget for potential ongoing work on the plan."
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While it's possible that these source code changes are simply former employees of the project wrapping up their work as they were instructed to do, other company employees aren't so sure, especially since Google has thus far refused to unequivocally denounce the anti-free speech policies of communist countries like China.
"I still believe the project is dead, but we're still waiting for a declaration from Google that censorship is unacceptable and that they will not collaborate with governments in the oppression of their people," one Google source familiar with the Dragonfly project is quoted as saying by The Intercept.
Because Google seems to be waffling on the issue, many skilled engineers and developers have quit their jobs at Google, citing company leadership's poor handling of the situation. According to The Intercept, at least six Google staff members, including two in senior positions, have resigned from the company since December. And three more, the news site says, are planning to leave in the coming weeks.
One former Google employee by the name of Colin McMillen, who had previously worked as a software engineer, left his position after nine years back in February, citing concerns about Google's "ethically dubious" decisions. One of these, as we reported back in November, involved awarding executives who were fired for "sexual deviancy" massive, multi-million dollar severance packages.
There was a time when Google never even would have considered partnering with countries like China that are hellbent on controlling what their people are allowed to access on the internet. But ever since Sundar Pichai took over as Google's CEO, everything has changed.
In Pichai's eyes, embedding censorship code into China's version of the Google search engine is a small price to pay for the company to gain access to China's more than 800 million internet users. And many, including McMillen, suspect that once all the controversy dies down, Pichai will quietly resuscitate the Dragonfly project for a future launch.
"Right now it feels unlaunchable, but I don't think they are canceling outright," McMillen told The Intercept about the Dragonfly project. "I think they are putting it on the back burner and are going to try it again in a year or two with a different code name or approach."
Others, like Anna Bacciarelli from Amnesty International, are calling on Google to publicly denounce the Dragonfly project for good, rather than just "for now." In her view, Google will be taking a major leap down the path of authoritarianism if it fails to do this.
If Google continues to work on Dragonfly in secret, "it's not only failing on its human rights responsibilities, but ignoring the hundreds of Google employees, more than 70 human rights organizations, and hundreds of thousands of campaign supporters around the world who have all called on the company to respect human rights and drop Dragonfly."
Amnesty International's Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo, expressed similar sentiments after visiting Google's Mountain View headquarters, noting the company's "apparent disregard for transparency and accountability around the project."
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