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Google is reportedly planning a censored search engine for China

Activists worry this will set a dangerous precedent.

 

Christina Bonnington

Tech

Published Aug 2, 2018   Updated May 21, 2021, 9:38 am CDT

Google is working on a modified, censored search engine for China, according to documents and firsthand knowledge shared to the Intercept.

Code-named Dragonfly, the project, which includes a custom Android app, began last year. If approved by Chinese officials and deemed better than the app of its Chinese rival, Baidu, a final version of the app may be ready in the next six to nine months.

With this product, Google would regain a search engine presence in the country for the first time in nearly 10 years. (From 2006 to 2010, it offered a censored version of its search engine before removing the offering after U.S. political pressure.) Since then it, like many other U.S. search engines and social media sites, has been blocked for violating the country’s strict censorship rules. The new app, however, would abide by China’s guidelines, hiding content such as: information about Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s political opponents, anticommunist views, international news, sex, and mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

“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 Intercept’s source said. Several hundred people are reportedly working on the project.

Google’s new app would automatically filter and censor websites and content that mention such topics from the first page of search results. It would also blacklist “sensitive queries” so that no results are shown for certain searches.

“We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans,” Google said in a statement regarding this report. Google also opened an AI lab in Beijing in December.

In April, Google also came under fire for collaborating with the Pentagon on “Project Maven,” a program that would adapt Google’s computer vision technology for drones. 3,100 employees signed an open letter opposing Google’s participating in the project, saying that Google should not be in the business of war.

Human rights activists worry that if Google makes this censored search engine for China, it will set a dangerous global precedent for other companies. It would also signal to China that major global powers will no longer challenge the country’s censorship laws.

You can read the full report here.

H/T the Intercept

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*First Published: Aug 2, 2018, 7:16 am CDT