From clandestine development, employee protests to a sudden halt, the retail of Google China Search App's short life of two years and its past and present life.
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Source: Silicon Star (ID: guixingren 123)
One thing that happened on the Chinese Internet in 2016 made Google executives realize that they might still have some hope of returning to the country they left six years ago.
It happened in April 2016, when a young man named Wei Zexi died of illness. On the eve of his death, Wei Zexi published an article denouncing the second Hospital of the Beijing Municipal Armed Police Corps, which treats him.
Netizens'resentment towards Putian Hospital and Baidu Advertising Platform/Search Engine has reached an unprecedented height. Events quickly escalated to uncontrollable, and related reports and content on the Internet followed. Baidu sacked Wang Zhan, vice president of related businesses in May 1st. The company founder, CEO and chairman Robin Li were interviewed by relevant departments the following day.
Relevant practitioners said that it should be regulated through legislation or industry associations, requiring search engine service providers to assume greater obligations in providing promotional services. There is even a voice on the Internet, hoping that Google Search will return to China to participate in competition and break the dominant situation of Baidu.
In the spring of 2017, Google CEO Sundar Pichai met with several close friends to determine a strategy for returning to China.
They decided to redevelop a search App for the Chinese market, codenamed Dragonfly, on the premise of abiding by local laws, regulations and policies.
Sundar Pichai attends high-level meetings in China
After that meeting, a small secret team from the search Department started the development of Dragonfly. The team started with only a few people, then gradually expanded, but still wearing a layer of mystery. They are forbidden by their supervisors and other employees, as well as the outside world, especially media reporters, to disclose the projects they are developing.
According to the explosive media The Intercept, Google executive Ben Gomes is one of the main leaders of the project. He is a veteran of the company. He started as a search engine, responsible for user experience and function. He has not been the search leader in 2017, but he is one of the three most powerful executives in the department.
In a Dragonfly project, Gomes tells employees
Indeed, anyone who joins the Dragonfly project will find that this search app is different from the Google search engine they have been developing and maintaining in the past.
Explosive content shows that Dragonfly blockades a series of sites and content that are not displayed in the results; moreover, when users enter certain keywords, Dragonfly completely blockades all the results.
Not only that, in the traditional Google search engine, users can search without login, and Dragonfly has different requirements, users must login before they can use it; moreover, since Dragonfly first appeared in the form of Android App, it introduced the setting of mobile phone number binding from the beginning.
This means that when users install and use Dragonfly apps on their phones, their user accounts, search behavior records and phone numbers are bound together. Because of the real-name system adopted in China, Dragonfly's settings were later considered to be a disdain for user privacy.
Soon, Google employees developed several exemplary Android App, codes
Since then, while keeping the mystery alive, the Dragonfly project team has accelerated its expansion, eventually reaching hundreds of people at its Mountain View headquarters in California and its offices in Beijing. Meanwhile, the chief executive of Google's search department left and Ben Gomes became the new VP of Search.
One of Google's Beijing offices
For some employees, Google's promotion seems to prove Dragonfly's justice to some extent; for others, they don't understand why Google allows such a project to exist against company values, let alone keep a tight lip.
With the media explosion of the project, this kind of negative resistance, which exists in the hearts of employees, eventually inevitably turned into verbal criticism.
On Aug. 1, The Intercept, a media outlet founded by Snowden reporter Glenn Greenwald, revealed the existence of Dragonfly and claimed to have gained access to
The report quickly triggered a sharp reaction within Google, with employees having a lot of discussion on G, internal sites and offline. A small number of staff expressed support for Dragonfly, saying it refused to provide services in China.
According to some intranet posts, there has been fierce debate within some teams about Dragonfly, which further leads to team differentiation. An employee posted on an intranet channel that he and several colleagues had asked the manager to remove his name from the project. What's more, they announced that they would resign to protest the company's attitude towards Dragonfly and its employees.
In the past, Google, which has always advocated an open and free culture, has responded differently to the fierce reactions of its employees.
Executives did not comment on this to the outside world, nor did they comment on it through internal channels. The employee who decided to resign had a short meeting with his supervisor before leaving. The supervisor said that unless the employee verbally agreed not to disclose the content of the conversation, the company would not be able to disclose any information to him. At the same time, the manager shuts down all project employees'access to project documents with Dragonfly information, and then restores access to one file, one file, according to the responsibilities of the employees.
An engineer posted a memo on the intranet, all the employeesThe App requires users to log in before they can use it and track their geographic location; besides Android, the iOS version is also under development; the data will be stored on a server in Taiwan, China, but Google will also give the search records of users and control of these data to its joint venture partners in mainland China, under their full control.
When the memo was discovered, Google executives were furious that the information had been leaked to non-project team members and demanded that the staff be tracked immediately. The HR team then found all the people they had seen in the background browsing records and emailed them to delete the files from their computers. In these messages, the sender uses what is commonly used in mail marketing
During the development of Dragonfly, employees in Google's offices in Beijing and Silicon Valley heavily used a website that most people have forgotten: 265.com.This is a navigation website, which aggregates a lot of links. The domain name belongs to Cai Wensheng at first. It was purchased by Google in 2008 to make up for the failed navigation website that Google had done in China in the early years. Now it belongs to Guxiang. Guxiang is a joint venture between Google and Cathay. It is one of the entities used by Google to conduct legal business in China.
Ironically, although it belongs to Google, 265.com still sends users'search requests to Baidu. But before it goes out, Google records and saves user behavior data, such as what information it searches for and which websites it visits.It's through these data that Google employees use automated ways to find out which websites can't be opened, which search keywords can't produce results, then aggregate them into a list, and then use them when developing Dragonfly: when users search these keywords and visit these websites, they screen them directly in the back end so that users can't access them.
However, because Google's Chinese joint venture partners have unilateral and full control, the latter is free to update the masked list, even though it is a digital asset of GoogleThis situation is regarded by Google employees as the abandonment of product autonomy.
In mid-August, a joint letter was once again circulated on the Google Intranet. Jointly signed employees asked executives to raise Dragonfly to a yellow alert level and take it seriously.The letter also cites some concrete evidence to prove Dragonfly's injustice, such as pointing out that the project violates the AI ethics regulations just released by Google.
In addition, some Google employees took advantage of the membership of the International Computer Society (ACM) to protest.
Then Pichai finally made a statement to the company's employees. He claims that Google is indeed developing such a search engine, but there is no clear plan and timetable for launching it. The project is at an early, exploratory stage.
However, Pichai's expression is quite different from Ben Gomes's.In fact, in July 2018, shortly before the project was exposed to the media, Gomes told the Dragonfly project team members at an internal communication meeting that they should enter the
Gomes thanked his staff because
According to his statement, Dragonfly was six to nine months away from the official launch, possibly earlier.This means that Dragonfly might be online now if things weren't exposed later.
In reality, the wide-ranging and various forms of resistance from Google employees have severely hit Dragonfly's online plans, forcing Pichai and Google executives to rethink the future of Dragonfly.
In Ben Gomes'view, Google has only two most important things: first, technology, and second, product and service users. He believes that China is a market that has been activated by the Internet, but Google has missed this market. He believes that China is still a huge opportunity for Google.
Like him, there are plenty of people in the ranks of Google executives.
In the view of some, Google is undergoing a major change of focus.
Lokman Tsui, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a former executive from the Google Asia-Pacific region from 2011 to 14 years ago, said [allowing the Dragonfly to exist] was a bad idea and a foolish act. He pointed out that
But there is also a voice that Google should come back to compete with Baidu and not let Baidu dominate.Even castration is better than none.
In fact, Dragonfly is not Google's first active self-castration search engine. Many may recall that from 2006 until 2010, before the core business pulled out of China, Google's search engine in China was itself a search engine.
In 2006, Google faced the same opportunities and challenges, strengths and weaknesses as in 2018. The quality of local search engines is worrying. Google has the advantages of technology and product matrix. Internet users are eager to use Google's services. There are 10,000 reasons to enter China.
But in order to provide Internet services in China, Google must meet the two most important requirements: joint venture operation, 49% of Chinese shares; and the provision of Internet services in line with local laws, regulations and policies.
The former need not be explained, until today foreign Internet technology companies in China are doing so. The second one made Google difficult at the time, then Google.
It was a bad idea, but at the time Schmidt had the same idea as many people today:
His logic is that Google first provides some information to Chinese users, and when it gets that information, users will always want to get more, and eventually things will get better.
This was a claim that later proved to have misinterpreted the values that Google upheld, but that seemed very rational to its employees at that time. According to Brandon Downey, a former Google employee who participated in Chinese search engine development, the core idea of this proposal is three points:1) The progress of science and technology is equal to the progress of morality; 2) minor harm will ultimately achieve great benefits; 3) change is better than maintaining the status quo.
Schmidt's logic comes from a myth that has existed since the creation of the Internet, which, in short, would turn the Internet into a utopian place where information would flow freely and uncontrollably. Because the Internet itself changes so quickly, it is difficult to catch up. Even with regulation, the communities of Internet users growing up in this free environment are so powerful that it is difficult for anyone or an organization to stand on the opposite side.
Of course, today we have long known that the Internet is not a utopia, it was created to solve those problems, not solved, but formed its own mapping on the Internet.
Social governance has not become better because of the popularity of the Internet, nor has the Internet allowed class integration, but created a new class segregation.Restricted by the strong control of commercial and political institutions, the Internet can not become a panacea of fundamental problems facing mankind in reality.
Unfortunately, this time, while believing in Schmidt's logic, Google executives continue to mislead or even deceive its employees.
On one all-hands meeting, Pichai and Google founder Sergei
Brin claimed on all-hands meeting that he knew nothing about Dragonfly, but when Google quit China in 2010, he was at the top of the decision-making process. Now, he is still an important member of the Google/Alphabet board and has veto power.
Did Brin lie, or was the mysterious project not discussed by the board, let alone approved?
In opposition to China's negative attitude, Brin had previously participated in Google's Go AI China Tour.
Without the answers to these questions, Google employees have experienced darkness and blockades in the past few months that they have never experienced during their tenure.They were angry to find that the company's security and privacy team had been excluded from the Dragonfly project.A security veteran pointed out security risks at the Dragonfly project meeting. As a result, his findings were ignored by project leaders including Google's Greater China President, Shibomeng, and he was forced to leave.
Dragonfly's deception and opaque information forced Google employees to take unconventional measures to express their views. Some employees with key responsibilities in their respective organizations left high-profile jobs, while others organized synchronous walk-out in multiple offices around the world to protest against Dragonfly and the company. A large number of members left Dragonfly, causing the project to stagnate.
Outside, Google has also come under unprecedented attack, with ACM and other trade groups and public interest groups denouncing the company for ending its Dragonfly program. An employee who had left the company publicly called on Congress to investigate the program. In October, Pichai sent a confidential letter to the Senate that said it was running the program
Protesters made dragonfly-shaped balloons
Earlier this month, Pichai had to head to Congress for hearings. The senator asked him if Dragonfly had violated the code of artificial intelligence that Google had recently proposed, and Pichai, trained as a political adviser, repeated Google over and over again
Yesterday, The Intercept broke the news again, and Google officially shut down Dragonfly's important system.
The reason is totally different from what most people think. Instead, the Google Security and Privacy Team made a formal protest.
As mentioned earlier, Google customizes Dragonfly search engine with 265.com data, but the process of collecting and using user data usually requires privacy team audits to ensure that the process is compliant. However, in the Dragonfly project, security and privacy teams were excluded from the early stages until the project was exposed.
Today, Google's decision does not rule out the possibility of security teams reporting to the board of directors.
In any case, today's decision by Google means Dragonfly, a project with serious security, privacy and ethical loopholes that has created corporate governance scandals for Google over and over again, has finally officially gone bankrupt.
According to some comments,
Dragonfly larvae can survive for more than a year, while adults usually live for only a few months. The most mysterious and coincidental part of the whole thing is that people don't know why Google named the search engine
The Intercept'sGoogleDragonflyreports: https://theintercept.com/collections/google-dragonfly-china
Code Yellow: https://gizmodo.com/heres-the-letter-1-400-google-workers-send-leadership-i-1828393599
Brandon Downey's An Old Approach to China: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZlQAG7qJXglIlObUmuHeQJ7gcdApp57gsYgl04wVuVY
GoogleOfficial Blog's A New Approach To China: https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-Approach-to-china.html
Google's 10 Things We Know to be True: https://www.google.com/about/philosophy.html