Google planning to launch a 'censored search engine' in China

Saul Franklin
August 4, 2018

Some of Google's own employees were reportedly not happy about the prospect of offering a censored search to appease China's government.

In 2006, Google released a China-based version of its search engine that met with the country's censorship laws after pulling out in 2003 after refusing to continue censoring content.

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) reportedly plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

Google had a very public fallout with the Chinese government a few years ago when they refused to censor searches in the country.

It is reported that the new search engine, codenamed project Dragonfly, has been in development since late past year and more recently received a boost when Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Wang Huning, a high ranking Chinese government official and foreign policy adviser to Xi Jinping, met in December 2017. The company is developing an engine that will blacklist websites and terms about human rights, democracy, religion and protests - all of them really sensitive topics in China.

It has been hard for Google to make any cracks in the Great Firewall which stands rigidly in front of any internet traffic that the Chinese government doesn't like. Last year, Google unveiled plans to open a research centre in China focused on artificial intelligence.

As a result of Google's absence, Baidu is the dominant search engine in China, and approved by its government. It said the project began to progress more quickly following a December meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a senior Chinese government official.

Depending on when the Chinese government approves the "toned down" Google, the app could launch anytime in the next 6-9 months.

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The desktop version of Google's search website is now unavailable to many Internet users within China.

The most recent report about its pending strategy suggests Google engineers built a custom Android app, the two versions named "Maotai" and "Longfei".

Other analysts cited China's "long memory" of past criticism from Google executives, the Wall Street Journal says (paywall). "It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google's "Do the right thing" motto, and we are calling on the company to change course". The project is codenamed "Dragonfly" and the new service may take the form of an Android app, according to the report.

Google would be making a ugly mistake by helping China's authoritarian government censor the internet and suppress dissent.

China has one of the strictest censorship regimes in the world, according to HRW. In the first half of 2018, China's national internet regulator shut down or revoked the license of more than 3000 websites.

At the moment, references to The Intercept's article and the development of the search engine are being promptly expunged from Weibo, another fact that does not appear to bode well for Google's chances.

The platform will "blacklist sensitive queries", the report claimed, preventing access to websites now blocked by the so-called Great Firewall.

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