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

Judy Cobb
August 4, 2018

The relations between the tech giant and the Chinese government never really got better, and most Google services are still barred in China.

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 US search giant's biggest step in the Chinese market. Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said that "it will be a dark day for internet freedom if Google has acquiesced to China's extreme censorship rules to gain market access". The company also complained at the time of hacking attacks that appeared to come from China.

The company reportedly is going to offer censorship of keywords and topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, including "human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest".

While it is unclear how many sites will be filtered out by Google's censored search engine, Wikipedia and the BBC were specifically mentioned in company documents as websites that would be blacklisted.

Google responded to the report in a statement to The Verge saying, "we don't comment on speculation about future plans". We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.

Why it's important: Despite all the fanfares to become an artificial intelligence company, Baidu's revenues still heavily depend on online advertisements, which seems to be threatened by Google's possible return.

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"China is a tremendous opportunity for any company because it is by far the single largest homogeneous market", said Kai Fu Lee, who headed Google's China operations before the company left in 2010.

The company shut down the engine in 2010, complaining that free speech was being limited.

It certainly makes financial sense for Google to want a piece of the Chinese market in a more direct fashion, but its previous policy of "Don't Be Evil" may have been completely forgotten for this project.

Although China's internet penetration is just over 50 per cent, its sheer scale means that there are three times the number of smartphone users and 11 times the number of mobile payment users in China than in the United States, according to the report. The report claimed that a finalized version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending formal approval from Chinese officials.

Google had previously complied with censorship controls starting in 2006 as it sought a toehold in the booming Chinese economy.

The platform will "blacklist sensitive queries", the report claimed, preventing access to websites now blocked by the so-called Great Firewall. Apparently both already meet with the government's expectations for control of information flow on the internet within China.

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