Google tailoring a search engine for China

Credit        Shutterstock

Credit Shutterstock

According to the leaked materials, the development of the censorship-friendly mobile search engine app began in the spring of previous year. It is a version of Google Search which complies with the censorship rules the Chinese government imposes on internet services, meaning any and all terms the government deems unfit for public consumption will be removed from search results.

The search engine is being built as an Android mobile app, and will reportedly "blacklist sensitive queries" and filter out all websites blocked by China's web censors (including Wikipedia and BBC News).

The report from The Intercept revealed a project called "Dragonfly", and claimed its existence was known only to a relatively small amount of employees. It is now expected that Google will launch in China within the next nine months if the Chinese government allows it.

The news of Google's launch plans has drawn ire from human rights activists, with Amnesty International calling it a "dark day for internet freedom" and "a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom", if the launch plans come to fruition.

From 2006-2010, Google operated in Chinese markets with a censored search engine, but was forced to change its policy, following a massive backlash in the US.

Google said in response to a request for comment that it doesn't "comment on speculation about future plans".

First published August 1 at 8:25 a.m. PT. Update, 12:45 p.m.: Adds more information.

Search terms about human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protests would be among the words blacklisted in the search engine app, the report said.

The work followed a meeting between Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official.

"Google is waking up to smell the coffee", said Andy Mok, founder and president of Beijing-based consultancy Red Pagoda Resources LLC. Among the complaints are that Chinese companies are stealing their trade secrets. Tech Crunch reported that Google is essentially cloning Toutiao, a popular app in China. "I am a bit surprised but it's indicative of how much sway the China market now has". Once the platform detects controversial keywords, it will filter and block websites that are now prohibited from visiting in China, like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and effectively all adult entertainment content.

Why it's important: Despite all the fanfares to become an artificial intelligence company, Baidu's revenues still heavily depend on online advertisements, which seems to be threatened by Google's possible return. Steps in recent years like removing VPN apps from the App store, blocking social media applications such as WhatsApp and Instagram, and restricting access to the ZeroNet website provide evidence as to why the combination of internet censorship regulations in the country is derisively dubbed "The Great Firewall of China". Earlier previous year, Chinese internet regulators authorised the Google Translate app for smartphones.

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