Google Reportedly Developing a Censored Search Engine for China

Amnesty International and Other Groups Criticize Google

Despite qualms from Chinese human rights groups, Google is reportedly working on a censored version of its mammoth search engine for China, a country with notoriously strong censorship laws.

The Chinese government has long been at odds with the search engine leader due to the company’s advocacy for free and open Internet browsing. Google’s decision to conform to China’s controversial censorship laws puts them at odds with activists and presents several ethical issues for the company.

[bctt tweet=”#Google is developing a censored search engine for China and activists working to tear down the #GreatFirewall aren’t happy. Read on for more…” username=”relevance”]

According to a whistleblower report published by Ryan Gallagher of The Intercept, Google’s Chinese search engine project, code-named Dragonfly, has been in the works since spring of 2017. Development ramped up in December after the company’s CEO met with a top Chinese government official.

In response to the report, a spokeswoman for Google issued a brief statement saying,

“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 But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”

Google’s Ethics Severely in Question

Reportedly, Google’s censored version will blacklist information banned from public access by the Chinese government including information related to the Tiananmen square massacre and terms like human rights, democracy, peaceful protest and religion.

Google sunsetted the Chinese version of its search engine back in 2010 due to concerns over free speech in the country and the Chinese governments rigid censorship laws.

Google’s decision to go back on their 2010 decision has been met with opposition from several human rights groups that have been fighting diligently for Internet freedom in China for many years. Patrick Hoon, a researcher affiliated with Amnesty International expressed his concerns over the decision to The Intercept,

“This has very serious implications not just for China, but for all of us, for freedom of information and internet freedom. It will set a terrible precedent for many other companies who are still trying to do business in China while maintaining the principles of not succumbing to China’s censorship.

The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government – it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more.”

It’s worth noting that Google also removed its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto from the company code of conduct a few months ago (pointed out by Gizmodo).

According to The Intercept, it’s unclear whether or not Google is planning a desktop version of the Dragonfly project. As of now, the company is working on releasing an Android, the most popular mobile operating system in China, app version of its browser.

Google Adds Another Brick to China’s Great Firewall

When Google still had an active, albeit censored, version of its browser in China (2006-2010), the company received scathing criticism in the U.S.

The criticism hit a high note at a congressional hearing in 2006 where members of the House International Relations Committee accused Google of being pawns to the Chinese government and called its actions ‘abhorrent.’ A NJ representative went so far as to say Google had become “evil’s accomplice.”

Since Google rolled out of China in 2010, The Great Firewall, a nickname for China’s oppressive censorship regime, has only gotten hotter.

The Chinese government has jailed activists, journalists, and bloggers and, although China technically offers its citizens freedom of speech and press, the rules on what’s acceptable in media are vague and authorities are allowed to crack down on stories they think expose state secrets or endanger the country.

The Chinese government has blocked Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and several other international social networks and sites and created their own censored versions of the sites.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Media Censorship in China section,

“In late 2014, China banned Google’s email service Gmail, a move that triggered a concerned response from the U.S. State Department.

In January 2015, China issued new cybersecurity regulations that would force technology firms to submit source code, undergo rigorous inspections, and adopt Chinese encryption algorithms.”

Chinese blogger Michael Anti (Jing Zhao) talks about The Great Firewall and how microbloggers are circumventing the rules in the following Ted Talk.

Final Thoughts

Having free speech and access to the Internet is inarguably a human right and something most of us take for granted.

By complying with China’s controversial censorship regime, Google is alienating its users, its employees, and marketers who use Google Analytics and the Google Marketing Platform for their content optimization and promotion efforts.

Because of the Great Firewall, marketing has been notoriously difficult in China. Google Analytics has worked in China but according to Search Engine Journal, data may be inaccurate.

It’s unclear how Google’s new search engine will affect foreign marketing and Analytics in China. Because Chinese consumers will soon be able to access certain information from Google, marketers may be able to target, track, and earn money from new audiences.

However, from an ethical standpoint, it might be better to take the high road on this one and conform to Google’s retired adage, “Don’t Be Evil.”

What do you think of Project Dragonfly? Let us know in the comments.


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