Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared to confirm in an interview with Wired Monday night that Google is working on a search engine that complies with the Chinese government’s strict censorship guidelines — admitting that Google is working with a foreign government to keep information out of the hands of its citizens.
Rumors have been swirling about the project, code-named “Dragonfly,” for weeks, putting Google employees and tech freedom advocates on edge. After all, Google pledged to “do no evil,” as part of company policy, and a search engine that complies with Chinese edicts would fall well short of that promise.
Google was booted from the Chinese market more than a decade ago over the Chinese government’s concerns that a global search engine could allow its closely guarded population to access outside news sources and communicate with people in freer countries. China’s Internet already features censorship-compliant, copycat versions of Twitter and Amazon, and China has its own, heavily monitored search engine service.
But, The Washington Post reports, Pichal noted Monday night that Google is close to having a product that would allow them to re-enter the Chinese market: a search engine that complies with China’s censorship rules 99% of the time.
“If Google were to operate in China, what would it look like? What queries will we be able to serve?” Pinchal said. “It turns out we’ll be able to serve well over 99 percent of the queries.”
The decision to abrogate their promise to “do no evil” seems to be a financial one. Google stands, of course, to make millions in search engine advertising revenue from China’s 1.4 billion people.
Pichal defended the move by saying that Chinese Internet users are looking for more than just information about Tiananmen Square (which China expressly forbids access to) and that Google could “help improve search queries” for things like “cancer treatments.”
“I take a long-term view of this,” Pichal added. “And I think it’s important for us — given how important the market is, and how many users there are — we feel obliged to think hard about this problem and take a long-term view.”
Google’s employees may be hit the hardest by news Dragonfly is real. More than 1,400 employees signed on to an open letter to their own CEO, protesting Google’s commitment to complying with global censors.
But the decision should also alarm Google users worldwide. Last week, internal Google sources leaked a slide deck to Breitbart News’ tech reporters revealing a multi-year, multi-million dollar project designed to defend Google and its administrators taking a more active role in censoring “controversial” material that appears on its search engine or on its many content creation platforms, including YouTube. In that presentation, Google seemed to settle on a “European model” of administration, patrolling for and disallowing “hate speech,” “fake news,” and “misogyny.”