Recently leaked documents show Silicon Valley Master of the Universe Google’s plan to launch a censored search engine in China.
The Intercept reports that Internet titan Google has plans to launch a censored search engine in China that will blacklist access to certain websites and restrict search terms related to human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, according to leaked documents.
The Google project, codenamed Dragonfly, has been in development since Spring of 2017, and was accelerated in December 2017, following a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and top Chinese government officials. Google engineers have created custom apps named “Maotai” and “Longfei,” which have already been demonstrated for Chinese officials and could be launched within the next six to nine months.
Currently, Google’s search service cannot be accessed in China, meaning that the company is missing out on quite a large ad market, something which this new project likely hopes to fix. China employs a digital censorship system known as the “Great Firewall of China” that prevents citizens from accessing websites such as Google and Facebook, it would appear that Google’s new search engine will comply with strict Chinese censorship laws in order to operate within the country.
China blocks a large amount of information from their citizens such as political information, certain elements of Chinese history and other free speech related topics. The Chinese social media website Weibo is one of the most popular online platforms in the country — that platform blocks information topics such as “anti-communism,” authoritarian related novels such as George Orwell’s 1984, and much more.
According to the Intercept, Google’s new search engine will automatically detect websites blocked in the country and censor them, the search engine will also “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown.” A source that informed the Intercept about the program stated:
“I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest.” The source stated that they feared “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher with human rights group Amnesty International, stated that Google’s sudden willingness to work with regimes that censor information could be a “big disaster for the information age.” Poon stated:
This has very serious implications not just for China, but for all of us, for freedom of information and internet freedom. It will set a terrible precedent for many other companies who are still trying to do business in China while maintaining the principles of not succumbing to China’s censorship. The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government – it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more.
Google’s current focus is reportedly on releasing their Android app in the country, researchers claim that 95 percent of China’s population access the internet via mobile devices and Android dominates 80 percent of the Chinese mobile market making an Android app top priority for the company.