Taking the high road, apparently, doesn’t pay enough to satisfy Google.
Blocked by the “Great Firewall” from providing search services to the vast majority of Chinese, Google — which hauled in $33 billion in revenue last quarter — has decided to launch a search engine there that will blacklist search terms and websites concerning human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, according to a new report.
“The app Google is building for China will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable,” The Intercept reported Wednesday.
“The Chinese government blocks information on the internet about political opponents, free speech, sex, news, and academic studies. It bans websites about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, for instance, and references to ‘anticommunism’ and ‘dissidents.’”
The blacklists will also apply to Google’s image search, automatic spell-checking and suggested-search feature so “they will not recommend people, information or photographs the government has banned,” according to The Intercept.
This news organization has reached out to Google for comment and will update this story with any response. Company CEO Sundar Pichai said in 2016 that “Google is for everyone,” and “We want to be in China serving Chinese users.”
Amnesty International called the move a “victory for China” that signals an end to opposition against the Communist government’s censorship.
“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,” Amnesty researcher Patrick Poon told The Intercept.
The search service is to be based on a specially built Android mobile app, and is being created under a secretive project known as “Dragonfly,” according to the investigative-journalism website, which said it had seen documents marked “Google confidential.”
“Within Google, knowledge about Dragonfly has been restricted to just a few hundred members of the internet giant’s 88,000-strong workforce,” the website reported, citing a source said to have “moral and ethical concerns” about Dragonfly, “which is being planned by a handful of top executives and managers at the company with no public scrutiny.”
Much of the work is under way at Google’s Mountain View headquarters, and Pichai is spearheading Google’s work to get into China, the site reported.
The source expressed opposition to large companies “collaborating” in oppression, and added that they feared “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
Silicon Valley entrepreneur John Battelle, who has watched Google closely for 15 years, said the project “revives an age-old question about where the line is between ‘respecting the rule of law in markets where we operate,’ a standard tech company response to doing business on foreign soil, and ‘enabling authoritarian rule,’ which is pretty much what Google will be doing should it actually launch the Dragonfly app.
“Google is going into China for one reason, and one reason alone: Profits.”
Google had at one time refused to kow-tow to Chinese censorship and provide censored search services, but in 2006 the company entered the Chinese market with a censored search engine. That led the company to be labeled “evil’s accomplice” and a “functionary of the Chinese government” in a Congressional hearing. The firm pulled the search service out of China in 2010, citing apparent surveillance of human-rights activists’ Gmail accounts and attempts to “further limit free speech on the web in China.”