Google has effectively suspended plans to develop a censored search engine for China following internal rifts over the controversial project, according to a report from investigative news site The Intercept.

Google was forced to shut down a data analysis system crucial for the development of the censored Chinese search engine, known as Dragonfly, after receiving complaints from the company's privacy team, The Intercept reported on Tuesday, citing two sources.

Dragonfly was first revealed by The Intercept in August to be the code name for Google's secret mission to build a censored search engine specifically for China, which would blacklist websites on any issues deemed sensitive by Beijing, from human rights to democracy to religion.

Google's search engine has been blocked in mainland China since early 2010, after the Silicon Valley giant decided to stop censoring searches as required by the Chinese government. That left the country's more than 750 million internet users dependent on a near monopoly search service from domestic rival Baidu, which in recent years has suffered a backlash from cases of deceptive advertising.

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In October Google CEO Sundar Pichai publicly acknowledged Dragonfly's existence for the first time, and told a US congressional panel last week that the company had 100 engineers working on the project.

A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Google on Tuesday declined to comment on The Intercept article and referred the Post to Pichai's previous testimony.

"Right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China. We are, in general, always looking to see how best it's part of our core mission and our principles to try hard to provide users with information," Pichai told the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week.

The existence of Dragonfly has triggered protests from human rights groups and Google employees, hundreds of which have signed an open letter demanding an end to what they see as a tool to help Beijing oppress dissident voices.

Google had been using Beijing-based 265.com, a Chinese-language web directory service it bought in 2008, to gather data about what Chinese people routinely search for in Mandarin, according to The Intercept. Such a practice is normally subject to constraints and reviews by Google's privacy team, which, nevertheless, were kept in the dark about the use of 265.com until Dragonfly was exposed to the public.

Following internal complaints from privacy staff, teams working on Dragonfly were told that they were no longer allowed to use the 265.com data to build the censored Chinese search project, according to The Intercept. Several groups of engineers have now been moved off Dragonfly to other projects.

- South China Morning Post