In Brief

Google to launch censored search engine in China

US tech giants have been trying to break the world’s biggest internet market for years

Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine for China that will block websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.

Citing internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans, The Intercept reports that the project – code-named Dragonfly – has been underway since spring of last year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official.

The Intercept says the move “represents a dramatic shift in Google’s policy on China” and will mark the first time in almost a decade that it has operated its search engine in the country.

Google withdrew its service from China in 2010 amid claims the Gmail accounts of several Chinese human rights activists had been compromised.

The web is heavily censored by Beijing, with the country’s so-called Great Firewall preventing citizens from accessing many politically sensitive sites, and even references to George Orwell.

Campaigners report that censorship in the country has increased under President Xi Jinping, extending beyond the web to social media and chat apps, reports The Verge.

“The problem,” says Motherboard, “is that China is a goldmine for internet companies. The country has twice as many people online as America has citizens and apparently the temptation may be too much to resist for Google”.

Under the new agreement, Google could roll-out its new censored search engine through a Chinese android app within six months. The product would reportedly block Western services already outlawed in China, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Wikipedia, and also scrub results for sensitive terms, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, and international media including the BBC and The New York Times.

One Google employee who worked on Dragonfly 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.”

Warning it could set a dangerous precedent, the employee added: “What is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

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