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White House calls on Google to abandon controversial Chinese search engine project

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Vice President Pence speaks out against Dragonfly

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google’s censored search engine and news app for China has seen a considerable amount of controversy since news of the project first broke, but it may have just gotten its biggest pushback yet in the form of direct opposition from the Trump administration. According to The Wall Street Journal, Vice President Mike Pence commented today in a speech that Google’s modified search engine — currently under the codename Dragonfly — would “strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

The Intercept was the first to break the news about the censored search app earlier this year, with later reports revealing that Dragonfly reportedly links searches to phone numbers, making it easy for searches to be tracked and tied to specific individuals.

Google has yet to formally confirm that Dragonfly even exists, with CEO Sundai Pichai reportedly commenting that things were simply “exploratory” and in the “early stages,” but that hasn’t stopped opposition to the program. The New York Times reports that around 1,400 Google employees have signed a letter demanding more transparency about Dragonfly, a group of House representatives have formally asked Google about the project, and The Intercept reported that Google senior research scientist Jack Poulson resigned in protest.

Google had previously operated its services in China until 2010, when the company pulled out after clashing with Beijing over an uncensored version of its search engine that Google ran out of Hong Kong (after Google discovered that China engaged in phishing attacks to target the information of Chinese human rights activists.) But China is also a hugely valuable market that’s home to nearly 1 billion internet users, so it’s easy to see why Google would want to go back.