According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), China is home to 772 million Internet users - the biggest online community in the world. Yet it recalls Google's 2010 exit from China over the same government censorship its latest efforts would reportedly support.
In a move human rights groups are warning could have grave implications for internet freedom across the globe, Google is reportedly preparing to launch a "censored version" of its search engine in China that will automatically blacklist terms and websites related to peaceful dissent, free expression, and democracy.
If the Chinese government approves the censored Google Search version and if the company is confident the search engine will perform better than Baidu, now the dominant search service in China, then Google will launch the Dragonfly search app, according to The Intercept's sources.
The Google project, codenamed Dragonfly, has been in development since Spring of 2017, and was accelerated in December 2017, following a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and top Chinese government officials.
A Google spokeswoman said that the company would not speculate on future plans, but that it did already have a notable presence in China. Google's search engine and other services are in the same predicament.
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Google's Android already has the largest market share of any operating system in China, now accounting for roughly 51 percent of all devices. What is to stop Facebook and Twitter to approach the Chinese government again, and agreeing to send an error message every time one tries to tweet about, or write a post about an activist like Liu Xiaobo? Revenue rose, but shares fell Wednesday as investors reacted to a report that Google would launch a new censored search engine in China.
The Intercept reports Google's new app could launch within six to nine months, though The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported separately, citing anonymous sources, that the product is only being tested and may never be deployed.
A worker, who did not want to be identified, said he saw slides about the censored search engine and that many of Google's executives were aware as well. "It will set a bad 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". Still, China has the world's second-largest economy with a huge and fast-growing population of internet users.
The Intercept spoke to a Google whistleblower who said they had ethical concerns about the project. There are now no plans to offer Google search on the desktop in China, but if the Android app gets approved it seems like an inevitable next step.
China's internet censorship laws are well-known. Google's stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us.
Academics, university students and other researchers relied heavily on Google's search services to access information not available through Chinese search engines like Baidu. Whether or not tech companies should enable censorship and the following oppression of a nation's people is open to debate.