Google has plans to launch a censored version of its search engine for China that will blacklist websites and search terms regarding human rights, democracy, political opposition, academic studies, religion, and peaceful protest, according to The Intercept.
Google started creating its project, named “Dragonfly,” in spring 2017; in December 2017, the project got a boost when Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official met, internal Google documents and people familiar with the project reveal, according to The Intercept.
The Intercept continues:
Teams of programmers and engineers at Google have created a custom Android app, different versions of which have been named “Maotai” and “Longfei.” The app has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government; the finalized version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Chinese officials.
Google has not operated its search engine in China for almost ten years; between 2006 and 2010, Google had a censored version of its search engine in China. Its search engine is currently blocked by China’s “Great Firewall.” The Intercept adds that Dragonfly will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, which ban information regarding free speech, sex, news, academic studies, historical events like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and books criticizing authoritarian governments, such as “1984” and “Animal Farm.” Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are censored.
One source told The Intercept, “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 … what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
Patrick Poon of Amnesty International stated, “This has very serious implications not just for China, but for all of us, for freedom of information and internet freedom. It will set a terrible precedent for many other companies who are still trying to do business in China while maintaining the principles of not succumbing to China’s censorship. The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government – it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more.”
In February 2006, as The Intercept notes, members of the House International Relations Committee called Google a “functionary of the Chinese government” and accused it of “abhorrent actions” for allowing its search engine to be censored. By 2010, Google yanked its search engine out of China, writing, “Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement.”
When Bloomberg asked for comment regarding Dragonfly, Google emailed, “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.”