Google is reportedly looking to re-enter the Chinese market after a number of media reports suggested it is developing a version of its search engine that will blacklist content deemed unacceptable by Chinese authorities.
The decision to develop a mobile search app that would block certain search terms in order to allow Google to re-enter the Chinese market, would open the firm up to allegations of supporting state censorship.
China of course is widely considered to have one of the most repressive Internet censorship schemes in the world, which is designed to prevent criticism of the ruling Communist Party and suppress dissent and other information deemed to be dangerous.
Indeed, only approved content is allowed behind the so called “Great Firewall” of China for its 650 million Internet users.
And restrictions have increased under the reign of Chinese president Xi Jinping who came to power in 2013. In 2015 for example he passed a law establishing “cybersovereignty,” and has made retweets of rumours a crime.
But now according to a New York Times report, which cited two unnamed people familiar with the effort, Google currently has engineers designing search software that would leave out content blacklisted by the Chinese government.
Google has even demonstrated the service to Chinese government officials, the sources added.
News website The Intercept first reported the story. It reported that the Google project is code-named Dragonfly and it said the development has been underway since spring of 2017.
It apparently accelerated the program following a December 2017 meeting between Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans.
The Intercept also said that the Chinese search app was being tailored for the Google-backed Android operating system for mobile devices.
Documents seen by The Intercept, marked “Google confidential,” also say that Google’s Chinese search app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the ‘Great Firewall’.
A Google employee familiar with the censored version of the search engine also confirmed to Reuters that the project was alive and genuine.
On an internal message board, the employee reportedly wrote: “In my opinion, it is just as bad as the leak article mentions.”
Google it should be noted already has several hundred staff in China, and in December 2017 launched its own artificial intelligence (AI) lab there.
Google at the time accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out a number of attacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.
That triggered a huge political row between America and China in 2011, and resulted in Google effectively retreating from the Chinese market after refusing to abide by its censorship rules.
But it should be noted that if true, this is not the first controversial project undertaken by Google.
In June this year Google pledged to end the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for weapons systems for example.
It came after Google told its staff that it would not renew its contract with the US Department of Defence when it expires next year.
Some Google staff had already quit working for Google over the issue, as they felt the Pentagon project clashed with Google’s famous “do no evil” ethos.
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