Published: Sat, August 04, 2018
Industry | By Johnnie Johnson

No, Google is not returning to China, censored or otherwise

No, Google is not returning to China, censored or otherwise

With a population of just under 1.4 billion people, hundreds of millions of people are yet to come online, an untapped market that is roughly double that of the entirely of the population of the US - a fact Google knows.

Reports of Google's possible re-entry spurred a strong reaction on Chinese social media outlets on Wednesday evening, including debates over the merits of a censored search engine versus accessing the US version through illegal virtual private networks.

Offering a censored search engine would reaffirm the growing view that United States internet companies are increasingly willing to compromise on their supposed commitment to free speech for a chance to take a bite out of the Chinese market.

Still, critics complained that Google was breaching its own company motto: "Don't Be Evil".

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According to the source that leaked internal documents about project Dragonfly, only a few hundred people at Google previously knew about the censored search engine being created. The company reportedly is going to offer censorship of keywords and topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, including "human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest". It's unclear if the apps now in development would do the same, as Google refused to comment "on speculation about future plans". In June, Google announced a $550 million investment in, a Chinese ecommerce company.

If (when?) Dragonfly does launch, expect Google to tell us why it took the decision to so, but don't expect any compromises to have been made by China. The Chinese government has tightened internet censorship significantly since President Xi Jinping came into power five years ago.

Despite its main search engine and YouTube video platform being blocked, Google still has more than 700 employees and three offices in China, and has been developing alternative projects. CEO of Google Sunday Pichai is said to have already met with Chinese officials and the plans are now pending approval from mainland authorities. The company also has apps like Google Translate and Files Go available in the Chinese market, but major services like Gmail, Search and Play Store are still not available in the country.

But Google is already being warned that complying with Chinese censorship is a complex business requiring an army of moderators. Due to the censorship related issue, the tech giant Google was reluctant to launch its services in China.

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In 2016, after taking over as Google's new CEO the previous October, Pinchai said at a conference in California, "I care about servicing users globally in every corner". Many are concerned the company would block a long list of foreign websites including Facebook, Twitter and various western news sites, as well as Chinese search queries including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and information about the Chinese leadership.

What has been censored in China's has varied somewhat over the years. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google's image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists.

Apparently, talks between Google and Chinese officials have been ongoing for some time.

A women polishes a dais before the Google global Chinese name launch on April 12, 2006 in Beijing, China.

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