Google allegedly builds a prototype system that will associate Chinese users' Google search with their personal phone numbers, as part of a new search service that will comply with the Chinese government's censorship requirements. The Intercept writes that the "Dragonfly" Android app, a secret project revealed by a whistleblower last month, could be linked to a user's phone number – making it easy to track single-user searches.
This tracking will be in addition to Dragonfly's blacklisting of terms such as "human rights", "student protest" and "the Nobel Prize", which can normally draw news about Chinese activist and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Sources have also told The Intercept that it is "essentially hardcoded" to replace weather and air pollution with potentially documented data from a source in China.
Google has not verified the existence of Dragonfly, and it is mostly refused to comment on project reports. (It did not respond immediately to a request for comment on these latest news.) It has previously been said that it is only doing "exploratory" work on a search service in China and that it is "not close to launching a search product" in the country.
. But these reports have drawn opposition inside and outside the company. Around 1
Google left out of mainland China in 2010 after discovering a phishing attack targeting human rights activists. As pointed out in previous statements, it offers apps like Google Translate in China, but searches remain blocked – although Google launches a service that complies with China's censorship regime, it can change. China's government has only tightened its threads over the internet since 2010, while expanding a regime of high-tech social control that includes "social credit" points (which can determine things as citizens' travel rights) and a sophisticated monitoring device to view its Muslim minority population in Xinjiang.
Even without links to a phone number, searching for Dragonfly would not be safe. Poulson and others have expressed concern about just having user data host in China, where authorities could access it. But the reported feature will add another layer of control and signal Google's will to make monitoring easy.