Google Plans To Re-Enter China With Government-Approved Search App

In a report found in The Intercept, Google will be formally re-entering the Chinese search market.  Reportedly, the search company will will offer censorship of keywords and topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, such as “human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.”

It seems that the talks that took place between Google and Chinese officials have been going on for a while now.  Prototypes where shown to government officials, and seems to have been met with their satisfaction.  According to The Intercept, a finalized mobile search app “could be launched in the next six to nine months.”

In January 2010, abruptly exited the Chinese market once some entities or individuals associated with the Chinese government had hacked Gmail, who sought to identify and crack down on human rights activists.  Up to that point, Google had been self-censoring results in China.  But, after the event, the company chose to discontinue the practice.

As Google wrote at the time of the decision:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered — combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web — have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

There was a debate after that decision within the company about if it should try re-entering the market.  Eric Schmidt, the then CEO of Google, expressed several times that there was a desire to remain in the country if possible.  Google started to soften its rhetoric and tone on China within a couple of years after the Gmail hacking.

Due to the fact that China is the largest internet market in the world, the financial lure of the country is hard to resist, despite the moral and ethical compromises of doing business there.

According to The Intercept’s report:

Google’s Chinese search app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall. When a person carries out a search, banned websites will be removed from the first page of results, and a disclaimer will be displayed stating that “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.” Examples cited in the documents of websites that will be subject to the censorship include those of British news broadcaster BBC and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

The search app will also “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, the documents state. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google’s image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists, meaning that they will not recommend people information or photographs the government has banned.

The knowledge of these moves, according to the story, within the company was restricted to only a few top executives.  The public disclosure of this information is almost certain to result in controversy and potential employee protest.

There hasn’t been any comments on “speculation about future plans” by Google. There was open employee revolt earlier this year, and because of this, there were some employees who chose to resign in protest of Google’s intended use of its AI technology to support US Defense Department initiatives. This prompted the development of an AI manifesto of sorts, wherein Google promised not to use its AI technology to cause harm.

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