Google may be changing its tune when it comes to the largest single market for internet users.
The Intercept reports that Internet titan Google has plans to launch a censored search engine in China that will blacklist access to certain websites and restrict search terms related to human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, according to leaked documents. The tech giant first made a voluntary exit from the world's most populous country back in 2010 citing restriction of free speech on the company's services.
At the time, Google staffers wrote an open letter to company CEO Sundar Pichai, which read in part, "We can not outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties".
According to The Intercept's Ryan Gallagher, who first reported on the tech giant's plans on Wednesday, "The project-code-named Dragonfly-has been underway since spring of previous year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google's CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official". "But we don't comment on speculation about future plans", a Google spokesperson told VOA in a statement.
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Google employees are already discussing the report, and some comments viewed by Business Insider show many are confused or angry.
Google's Android already has the largest market share of any operating system in China, now accounting for roughly 51 percent of all devices.
"One of those [people familiar with the matter] said the censorship product is still at the testing stage, and hasn't been formally submitted to the government for approval". Revenue rose, but shares fell Wednesday as investors reacted to a report that Google would launch a new censored search engine in China. The project started a year ago in April after Sundar Pinchai's meeting with the Chinese government.
Depending on when the Chinese government approves the "toned down" Google, the app could launch anytime in the next 6-9 months.
The company's devotion to web freedom, critics charged, was being subverted by a willingness to comply with Chinese censorship in return for access to a huge potential customer base. Code-named "Dragonfly", teams of Google engineers and programmers have been working on the project since the spring of 2017.
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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".
The platform will "blacklist sensitive queries", the report claimed, preventing access to websites now blocked by the so-called Great Firewall.
Apparently, talks between Google and Chinese officials have been ongoing for some time.
In the company's absence, Baidu Inc. has strengthened its grip on search in China while Microsoft Corp.'s Bing operates in the country by censoring subjects and words.
China has one of the strictest censorship regimes in the world, according to HRW. "We want to be in China serving Chinese users".
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