If you have ever visited China then you may be aware of the fact that you are not able to access Google or its services in the country. If you have not visited and are not aware of the situation then to recap, Google and its services are blocked by the Chinese government. China is known for its “Great Firewall” to ensure that its users are not able to access whatever the government does not want its citizens to access. The primary reason for the block was censorship where the government did not want specific content on Google services.
Google has tried to re-enter the Chinese market a number of times over the last couple of years with a number of programs. However, almost eight years after the initial instances of the ban surfaced, it looks like Google is once again attempting to enter the Chinese market. According to a report by The Intercept, it looks like Google is trying to do whatever it takes to breach the barrier and reach the market. The reason for this attitude may be because of the potential and relatively untapped market.
Censored Google Search
The report points out that the company is planning to launch a censored version of its Search engine to please the Chinese government. The company will be censoring out websites and search terms talking about democracy, human rights, peaceful protest, and religion. The company even has a code name for the censored project as “Dragonfly”. What is surprising is that this is not a recent development as the company has been working on this project since the spring season last year. It means that the company has been working on this project for more than a year.
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Work on the project “accelerated” after Sundar Pichai met with a top government official from China. All this information was obtained from internal documents and people that are familiar with these plans at Google.
The extent of the efforts
The report pointed out that the company has gone all in with the project where engineers and programmers have even made custom versions of its Android apps with the codename ‘Maotai’, and ‘Longfei’. These apps have “already been demonstrated” to the government in China. With the censored version, the company may be planning to enter the Chinese market in six to nine months if they get the approval from the government. The apps will automatically identify and then filter the websites that have been blocked by the Great Firewall. The apps will also show a disclaimer adding “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements”.
The app will also check for “blacklist sensitive queries” which will not show any results in the app. This censorship would be across the services offered by Google including, image search, spell check and search suggestions. It is unclear about when the company will roll out the censored version of its desktop search as the company is currently focusing on the Android version of its search app.
Bending in front of the government
The information on the plans reveals that Google will comply with the strict censorship laws of China. This means that Chinese internet users will not be able to search or access any content that may seem “unfavorable” by the Communist Party. For perspective, the government bans information on its political opponents, free speech, academic studies, anything about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, references ‘anticommunism’, and ‘dissidents’. The ban also includes books that are negative in their portrayal of “authoritarian governments” as pointed by the report.
The ban extends to websites including, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBS, and Wikipedia.
The report goes on to add that only “a few hundred members” knew about this project out of the considerable 88,000 people that are part of the workforce. The people who were aware of the project were not allowed to contact the media. The primary source of the details about the project added that he had ethical and moral concerns about this move from the company. This move was only “planned by a handful” of executives and managers at the top without any scrutiny from the public.
The source went on to state, “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” adding, “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.” The concerns raised by the source are valid as this would push other countries to arm-twist Google into creating censored versions for their countries.
As part of the report, Hong Kong-based researcher with Amnesty International, a human rights group, Patrick Poon added that this move will be a big disaster for this information age. The report also pointed out that this will be harmful to companies and businesses who have been trying to do business with China while maintaining their principles by not falling for the censorship laws in the country.