Google China Censorship Project Named After Co-Founder Sergey Brin's Luxury Yacht?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is the owner of what is reportedly one of the world’s fastest motor yachts. The luxurious 240-foot boat (pictured below) is worth $80 million and has nine cabins and space for 18 guests and 16 crew. It has an open-air cinema, a bar, and a jacuzzi on the sundeck, which can be converted into a dance floor.

But that is all less interesting to me than the boat’s name: Dragonfly. As I reported for The Intercept earlier this month, Google has since spring 2017 been working on a secretive project to launch a censored search engine in China. And the internal code-name for the China project is… Dragonfly.

I’ll explain why this small detail is very curious.

Back in 2006, Google launched a censored search engine in China. But four years later, in March 2010, it pulled the service out of the country, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems.

At that time, Sergey Brin was one of the main forces inside Google arguing that the company should not be complicit in Chinese government censorship. As a child, he had spent six years with his family in the Soviet Union, and he was all too familiar with state repression.

After Google pulled its search engine out of China in 2010, Brin said of the Chinese government: “In some aspects of their policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see the same earmarks of totalitarianism, and I find that personally quite troubling."

It’s clear Brin was at the time genuinely uncomfortable with the censorship – he didn't just say what he did for public relations reasons. I have heard this from several people inside the company who spent years working with him. He took a principled stand and had arguments with colleagues over the issue.

In recent years, Brin has taken a more hands-off role at Google. Since 2015, CEO Sundar Pichai has taken the helm, and he has steered the company’s policy on China. But Brin still serves on Google’s board of directors, and would surely have been briefed on the search engine plans, given their importance for Google both politically and strategically. So did Brin change his mind about the censorship? Was he simply outvoted by his colleagues on the issue?

More to the point at hand, why was the Chinese censorship project given the same name as Brin’s yacht? Is it possible somebody inside Google is trying to troll Brin, knowing that he has in the past spoken out against the Chinese government censorship? Or was Brin himself involved in giving the project this name, indicating that he has changed his views? Or is it all just some bizarre coincidence?

I’ll have to add this to my long list of questions for Google (which the company has still not answered, by the way).

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1 comment:

  1. "As a child, he had spent six years with his family in the Soviet Union, and he was all too familiar with state repression." ----- you remember what you did when you where 5 y.o??? All too familiar?

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