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The Ever Questionable Presence of Google in China

For the longest time, it has been agreed upon that Google is one of those tech companies that stand against the restriction of the freedom of speech and the overall censorship – be it online or offline.

by Eugene Michaels

However, the most recent news about Google’s alleged return to China with a censored search engine has definitely shifted this idea for many.

Google has tried again and again to win over the Chinese market. But this might just end up being another massive victory for China, its censorship, and also Baidu, the behemoth of the search engines.

Google entered China for the first time back in 2005. That year, the company started developing a Chinese language version for the search engine. And in January of 2006, they launched a full-on localized website under the <> domain, which is still accessible and offers a redirection to the Hong Kong version. In the beginning, Google also allowed the Chinese government to access and examine the results.

However, in 2010, Google Search websites and Google mobile app were both moved to the Hong Kong server, so that the results could no longer be accessed and censored by the government. Soon after this decision, Google was completely shut down in China. In fact, for most Chinese users, Google’s services were not accessible just a few months after the server move.

Since 2016, Google has been continuously trying to return to the Mainland China. For example, they have opened dozens of the job vacancies around the country. Some that include software engineers, advertising experts, public relations managers, and even Google Play business development managers. These employees have been since helping fellow Chinese developers and businesses to connect with the global audience. Google also provides support to the world’s leading marketers, who still want and need to use Google’s advertising products in China.

At the end of 2017, Google also announced that it would open an artificial intelligence center in Beijing. The center has also recruited new staff, who are to work with the AI colleagues from the Google offices around the world, such as New York, Toronto, London, and Zurich.

And here we are right now. Just a few weeks ago, a whistleblower from Google shared the news about a secretive project that only a few hundred people at Google knew about. Google is planning on releasing a censored search engine for China (the project is going under a name Dragonfly). This engine would comply with all the rules and regulations of China’s cyberspace. Therefore, it would block out any sensitive results and keywords that are usually not available on domestic search engines, like Baidu or Sogou. Google allegedly has been closely working with other Chinese companies, perhaps Tencent itself, and the state officials.

Furthermore, it was revealed that Google has never truly left China, as they have been running a website since 2008 – This website provides information on many different services in China and also has a search integration. Once a keyword is typed in, a user is directed to the Baidu search engine, however, Google has had access to these search results for the past 10 years or so. Thus, they could gather data on what keywords and phrases are banned, what people search for the most or the least.

The latter news brought many negative reactions both from the regular netizens around the world and also many human rights and internet freedom organizations, which are asking for Google not to go through with the project and to continue supporting the freedom of expression online as they have been publicly doing since the founding.

It is understandable that Google wishes to enter the Chinese market for the great returns and business possibilities. However, if such respectable tech companies begin complying with the censorship needs of a nation, what does it mean for the future of the internet?

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