A prototype of a censored search engine that links users’ queries to their personal phone numbers is the result of a collaboration between Google and China.
This technology would make it easier for the Communist Party of China to monitor people and what they are searching, the Intercept reported Friday.
Dragonfly, the code name for the new search engine, was designed for Android devices.
The search engine would remove information that the Chinese government deems sensitive, like content regarding political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and protests, in something called a censorship blacklist.
The blacklist includes the terms “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize,” among other terms in Mandarin, the language the majority of Chinese people speak.
Sources familiar with the Google project told Intercept that by linking searches to phone numbers, people seeking information banned by the Chinese government could be at risk for interrogation or detention.
“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” Cynthia Wong, a senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch, said. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”
Several human rights groups criticized the move in an open letter, saying it would result in Google “directly contributing to … human rights violations.”
The technology could also be used to increase China’s ability to manipulate information provided to the public, such as altering weather and air pollution data.
As of Saturday morning, Google has not yet commented on the project or concerns it has brought up with human rights groups and activists.
Recently, many conservative voices and social media users in the U.S. have complained that search engines are exhibiting bias toward liberal voices and media outlets in search results.