China has an army of internet censors who comb through the web and block information that the government doesn’t want its people to see. But the job of the censors is about to get easer if Google has its way. The tech giant is planning to release a new censored version of its search engine and apps in the land of 1.3 billion people.
The news about Google comes from reporter Ryan Gallagher at the Intercept who has seen confidential internal documents about the plans for a censored search engine. Code-named Dragonfly, Google’s new technology has reportedly been in development for over a year and has already been demonstrated for Chinese government officials.
The plans for a new search engine include Android apps that would allow users to search Google without being exposed to information that the government deems unacceptable. Google’s Android already has the largest market share of any operating system in China, currently accounting for roughly 51 percent of all devices.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai traveled to China in December of 2017 to discuss the tech company’s future in the country and the plan to launch a censored search engine reportedly accelerated from there. The censored Google products still need to win final approval from the Chinese government before they’ll be allowed out into the wild.
China’s censors already ban words and phrases that are seen as subversive, including references to the Aldous Huxley book Brave New World, the cartoon character Peppa Pig, and even Winnie the Pooh. Why ban a Disney character? Pooh became a symbol of Chinese president Xi Jingping back in 2013 when he was seen walking with President Obama. Disney has two theme parks in China, which complicates things ever further.
According to the Intercept, roughly 200 employees at Google are working on the new censored search engine. Most are based at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, though others are reportedly spread out across the United States. The Intercept spoke to a whistleblower inside the company who is concerned about Google’s willingness to work with the Chinese government to restrict the information that people all over the world will see.
How could this impact the way that the rest of the world sees information? China’s influence is growing as the world gets smaller. The hotel company Marriott recently fired one of its social media managers for liking a tweet about Tibet after China complained.
As long as there’s money to be made, Silicon Valley has shown that it has no actual principles. Tech giants like Google and Facebook claim to value liberal democracy and free speech, but it’s plainly obvious that the companies only care about making money. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft, for example, still continue to work with U.S. immigration agencies despite the systematic torture of children that has occurred under the Trump regime.
Gizmodo has reached out to Google for comment and will update this article when we hear back. And if you have any information about Google’s plans in China don’t hesitate to drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update, 6:38am: Google just sent Gizmodo the following statement:
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.
That’s not a denial, obviously.