Google Considering Censored Search Engine for Return to China

Joshua Bennett
August 4, 2018

Most internet users in China can not now access Google Search.

Between 2006 and 2010, Google actually ran a censored version of its search engine in China.

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) reportedly plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. The companies said they would collaborate on retail solutions around the world without mentioning China, where Google services including Gmail and YouTube are blocked.

In a statement to The Verge, a Google spokesperson says the company doesn't comment on speculated future plans. "Google often builds and tests different services that never become publicly available". Last year, Google unveiled plans to open a research centre in China focused on artificial intelligence. The app, according to the documents, will "blacklist sensitive queries" and filter websites already blocked by Chinese authorities.

Despite pulling its search engine in 2010, Google now has more than 700 employees in China, according to the Times. The project started a year ago in April after Sundar Pinchai's meeting with the Chinese government.

The Intercept reports Google's new app could launch within six to nine months, though The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported separately, citing anonymous sources, that the product is only being tested and may never be deployed.

If Google does make the jump to the Chinese market, it'll be competing with Baidu, the entrenched local search engine. Although there's not direct evidence, the implication is that Google may have been given the green light to return to China if it complies with government restrictions. In March 2010 Google announced it would no longer censor Google Search, Google News, and Google Images on Google.cn, a practice it had followed since 2000.

China of course is widely considered to have one of the most repressive Internet censorship schemes in the world, which is created to prevent criticism of the ruling Communist Party and suppress dissent and other information deemed to be risky.

"Yet the existence of the project does not mean that Google's return to China is imminent, the [two people with knowledge of the plans] cautioned".

In 2016, after taking over as Google's new CEO the previous October, Pinchai said at a conference in California, "I care about servicing users globally in every corner".

According to the report, a few hundred people within Google are aware of the Dragonfly project, with one whistleblower speaking out because of ethical concerns, Business Insider reported.

China has one of the strictest censorship regimes in the world, according to HRW. "They won't help ⁦Department of Defense⁩ keep us safe but they will help China suppress the truth?"

- Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) August 1, 2018 If Google goes through with this and launches a censored search engine in China, effectively normalizing and Americanizing authoritarian censorship, this will be the Waterloo in the global battle for a free internet as a norm.

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