Google’s search service has not been available for most internet users in China, as it is blocked by the country’s “Great Firewall”. However, this may be changing soon as in a dramatic shift in the internet giant’s policy on china, there are reports that Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in the country.
The censored version would black out websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protest. Although China denies this, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans, the project—codenamed Dragonfly—has been underway since last year and was accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official.
Facebook, Microsoft and Google have all taken ethical liberties—created products with in-built censorship tools to try to appease the Chinese Government—in the pursuit of gaining traction in China. American tech companies trying to tailor their products to enter the huge Chinese market is nothing new; LinkedIn, which belongs to Microsoft, censors its content Apple itself reached the $1 Trillion mark largely due to its success in China with its iPhones.
According to intercept, a team of programmers at Google have created a custom Android app, different versions named “Maotai” and Longfei. Pending final approval from Chinese officials, the finalized version could be launched within the next six to nine months. The app will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws.
Between 2006 and 2010, Google had maintained a censored version of its search engine in China, but faced severe criticism in the U.S. over its compliance with the Chinese government’s policies. Following the fallouts from a February 2006 congressional hearing and the intensity of the controversy, the company announced that it was pulling out of China and cited the Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites and hack Google computer systems as reasons why it could no longer continue Censoring results.
Since Google pulled out its search engine out of China in 2010, local competitors have risen up, including the nation’s dominant search engine, Baidu. A vast majority of Google’s services including its app store, email service and YoTube remain inaccessible behind the Great Firewall but the company has lately displayed interest in regaining access to the world’s largest internet population. In June, it announced a $550 million investment in the Chinese online retailer, JD.com and just last year, Google unveiled plans to open a research centre in China focused on artificial intelligence. The company has more than 700 employees in China and has released translation and file management apps for the Chinese Market.
“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,” said Taj Meadows, a Google spokesman. “But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.” (NY Times)
Meanwhile, despite being a household brand in much of the world, a good number of the younger generation who are growing up in the Post-Google Chinese internet may not be conversant with the brand. The first uphill task would be differentiating itself much from Baidu and navigating the international trade wars between the US and China.
As Silicon Valley struggles with the realisation that China is fast becoming the next super-power in technology, artificial intelligence and the next era of cutting edge technology; it would be increasingly difficult for any giant not to want to have a cut in the vast Chinese Market.
The coming months and years would beam more spotlight on whether this speculation would ever happen.