A Google whistleblower revealed to The Intercept that the company secretly plans to bring back its search engine to China, but search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protests will be censored. Many believe this move will normalize China's censorship, which may spread to other nations that choose to use its system as a template.
The plan is part of project “Dragonfly,” a mobile search app that Google believes will offer “better” research results than Chinese competitor Baidu. However, the app will also censor many news and information sites such as BBC and Wikipedia, and it will “blacklist sensitive queries” that the Chinese Community Party may not want its citizens to discover. The project was known only to a few hundred employees inside the company, similar to how Project Maven was also kept secret, as the leadership feared backlash from the more ethical employees.
“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,” the Google employee told the publication.
He also feared that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher with human rights group Amnesty International, told The Intercept that Google’s return to China signifies a win for the Chinese government and its censorship regime. According to him if the world’s largest organizer of information in the world agrees to China’s censorship terms, then it sends the message that nobody else should bother challenging the Chinese censorship, either.
Google’s Brief Absence In China
Back in 2010, Google made the decision to exit China. The primary reason over this was the fact that the Chinese government was forcing the company to censor search results. However, only months earlier, the Chinese government had hacked Google’s servers, which likely played a major role in the decision to quit China, too.
Google was never the dominant search player in China. Its main competitor, the local search engine company Baidu, had the dominant position, so it wasn’t that difficult for Google to make that decision at the time.
Since then, Google has developed Android into what some would say is a global mobile operating system monopoly, which has made the company billions of dollars. However, although Android is used by all Chinese smartphone manufacturers, the Google Play Store isn’t. According to a previous report, the Chinese spent $35 billion on mobile apps in 2017 alone, so Google missed on all of that revenue, despite its mobile OS dominating China.
Recently, Google started making some moves in China such as launching several new apps for the Chinese market, as well as investing $550 million into JD.com, an ecommerce giant in China.