Google grilled over ‘Project Dragonfly’ at Senate hearing on data privacyng

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Google has finally admitted that a “Project Dragonfly” is indeed in the works.

But that’s about all a Google executive was willing to divulge Wednesday about the codenamed plan, which has been widely reported to be a search product the company is developing for China — one that would need to comply with government censorship.

The rumored existence of the Chinese search engine came up repeatedly during a Senate committee hearing in Washington, where several major technology and telecommunications executives were testifying about a potential federal law to regulate data privacy.

The prospect of a Google-sanctioned search engine for China has become a hot-button issue. Reports began surfacing last month that Google was working on a product that would block sensitive websites and search terms in accordance with Chinese censorship.

The New York Times later reported that more than a thousand Google employees have questioned the plan. That criticism is ongoing — The Times reported early Wednesday that a former Google research scientist blasted the Chinese search product in a letter to lawmakers this week.

However, Google had refused to comment until Wednseday, when Google (GOOG) chief privacy officer Keith Enright joined executives from AT&T (T), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Twitter (TWTR) and Charter Communications (CHTR) at the Senate hearing (AT&T owns CNN.). The point of the hearing was for the executives to outline what they want out of any new US regulatory proposal — they largely opposed any law as restrictive as the recent data privacy reforms adopted or passed by the European Union and California.

But lawmakers fixated on Enright. They lobbed questions at him about all kinds of controversies facing Google and the rest of the tech industry, privacy-related or otherwise.

Enright did not link “Dragonfly” to the reports about developing a Chinese search engine. He name-dropped it only when pressed about the existence of a “Project Dragonfly” by Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.

“I am not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope for that project,” Enright added.

When Cruz prodded Enright for more information, the privacy officer would only reiterate what CEO Sundar Pichai has already said about the rumored product.

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Luke Rubio

When a nation’s young men are conservative, its funeral bell is already rung