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Leaked document shows Google’s plans for its censored search engine in China – ANITH
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Leaked document shows Google’s plans for its censored search engine in China

Leaked document shows Google’s plans for its censored search engine in China

Google: As evil as they feel like.

Image: li xin/AFP/Getty Images

Recently, Google removed its long-time unofficial motto, “don’t be evil,” from its corporate code of conduct. If you need an understanding as to why they’d make such an update, here’s the perfect example.

The Intercept is reporting that the company is readying a censored version of its search engine in a custom Android app to launch in China.

To comply with the Chinese government’s strict internet censorship laws, Google’s China-only search engine app would block websites and search terms about human rights, peaceful protests, political dissidents, democracy, police brutality, religion, and more.

A whistleblower provided the Intercept with the internal Google documents related to the project, codenamed “Dragonfly.” According to the leaked materials, the development of the censorship-friendly mobile search engine app began in the spring of last year. Work ramped up after Google CEO Sundar Pichai traveled to China to meet with Wang Huning, a top official in China’s ruling party. Following the meeting, Google announced an AI research center in Beijing and later released a file management app and sketch game for China’s growing internet-using population. 

Once the app is completed, if Google believes the product excels China’s current leading search engine, Baidu, and it gets approved by China’s government, Dragonfly would be the U.S. search giant’s biggest step in the Chinese market.

Google will certainly be met with swift and immediate blowback from the public at large, as well as within its own company. 

Now that the project has been leaked, Google will certainly be met with swift and immediate blowback from the public at large, as well as within its own company. According to the Intercept’s source, only a few hundred people had any knowledge of the Chinese search engine project. Google has more than 88,000 employees.

China’s internet censorship laws are well-known. The country’s entire internet is effectively “surrounded” by its Great Firewall of China, a joint effort by the state and tech and telecommunications companies to censor the web in accordance with Chinese law. For example, the country blocks information on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. And Chinese technology companies must provide the government access to information on their users.

There is precedent to Google bowing to public pressure. Between 2006 and 2010, Google actually ran a censored version of its search engine in China. Facing heat from activists and even the U.S. government, Google eventually ended the product. In its announcement about pulling out of the country in March 2010, Google blamed the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance policies as antithetical to what the company believes.

There is precedent to Google bowing to public pressure. 

Since then, Chinese censorship and surveillance policies have only worsened, especially after China’s president Xi Jinping’s party took power in 2013. Google has also undergone changes as a company, with its new CEO Pichai leading the charge to once again get a foothold in the country.

But the story isn’t over. Just this past June, after news broke that Google was partnering with the Defense Department to provide artificial intelligence for the government’s Project Maven drone program, thousands of employees voiced their disapproval. That employee rebellion forced the company’s hand in its decision not to renew its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense next year. A number of Google employees even went as far as resigning from the company in protest. 

It’ll be a bigger challenge to change Google’s mind about plans to re-enter the Chinese market. With an estimated 730 million internet users, China offers Google the potential to make far more money than did that contract with the Defense Department. And the new Google CEO seems to have made “Google in China” his mission.

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Anith Gopal
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