Google Has ‘No Plans’ for Censored Chinese Search Engine, Says CEO Sundar Pichai

Exec has faced criticism from Congress and his own employees for company’s clandestine plans for China

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told U.S. Congress on Tuesday that the company has “no plans” to launch a censored search engine in China — despite acknowledging that a team of more than 100 engineers has worked on the project.

The tech giant currently “has no plans to launch in China,” Pichai told Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-TX) in response to her question about the company’s Chinese ambitions.

It was a topic that came up frequently during Pichai’s testimony. Pichai reiterated several times that Google isn’t planning on launching in China anytime soon.

“It’s part of our core mission and principles to try hard to provide users with information,” Pichai said in response to a comment from Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA). “We always have evidence, based on every country we have operated in, us reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact, and we feel that calling. But right now, there are no plans to launch in China.”

Google has been under pressure from both critics, as well as many of its own employees, for its exploration of a censored search engine in China, dubbed “Project Greenfly.”

“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” dozens of Google employees said in an open letter last month. “The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”

Later in his testimony, Pichai acknowledged that a team of more than 100 engineers had worked on a censored version of its search engine — a project that had been “under way for a while.” He then repeated the company had no plans to launch a Chinese search engine. Pichai added Google would be “very transparent” in the future when it comes to reentering China.

Pichai was even skewered by InfoWars founder Alex Jones for Project Greenfly on Tuesday as he went to give his testimony. “Google is siding with the Communist Chinese against America!” Jones shouted. “Google’s helping arrest Chinese dissidents!”

Google initially left China in 2010 over censorship and cybersecurity concerns. China’s rigid online censorship — facetiously called the “Great Firewall” —  has stifled free speech online for years through a network of moderators, technical restraints and legislative regulations. The Chinese government blocks access to pornography and news stories that are overly critical of its communist regime, as well as major sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

“Anytime we look to operate in a country we would look at what the conditions are to operate,” Pichai said.  “There are times in the past where we debated the conditions to operate, and we explore a wide range of possibilities. Currently, it is an effort only internally for us. We are not doing this in China.”