Thirsty for Chinese users, Google is planning on reviving its search engine within the Great Firewall. For about a decade, Google’s search engine has not operated in China, due to significant censorship restrictions put in place by the government, which would limit certain sources and results from appearing in search.
According to internal documents obtained by the Intercept, “The project — code-named Dragonfly — has been underway since spring of last year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official.” It concerns a custom Android app that will allow the search engine to operate in the country in compliance with government regulations. It has already been demoed to officials and could be finalized in the next six to nine months.
According to the Intercept:
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.”
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 Chinese government, for example, blocks websites about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and on social media sites, blocks reference to books like 1984, which is not particularly complimentary of authoritarianism.
In broad strokes, Google is developing a system for suppressing information at the direct request of the government in exchange for financial gain. And it is developing a system that, from the Intercept’s description, sounds portable, meaning that Google can take its locked-down version of its search engine and bring it to any other country that requires it. It’s a slippery-slope scenario, in that now Google can no longer assert that it’d rather not be in the business of strong censorship on behalf of authoritarian governments.