Google Search Prototype for China Links Searches to Phone Numbers

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Google Search Prototype for China

New disturbing details about the new Google search engine for China.

According to online publications, including Gizmodo, the prototype search engine for China, codenamed Dragonfly, not only restricts the searches by following a blacklist of keywords provided by the Chinese censors but above all would directly link the searches to the phone number. The news was leaked thanks to an Intercept report released on Friday.

We remember how in 2010, Google had actually abandoned China due to the continuous violations of human rights and a cyber attack that had compromised the accounts of some activists. Recently, some reports have indicated that Google is trying to re-enter the lucrative Chinese market, in the meantime conquered by local competition.

The main human rights groups have criticized Dragonfly, stating that the platform could push the company to “contribute directly or become an accomplice of human rights violations”. A central concern expressed by the groups is that, beyond the censorship, the user’s data is stored by Google directly in China and these could easily be accessed by the Chinese authorities.

In order for this to happen, Google must necessarily satisfy a series of requests from the Chinese authorities. Among the sensitive keywords, according to the Intercept report, and already included in the Google blacklist we find terms in Chinese as “human rights”, “student protest”, and “Nobel Prize”. Some features of the search engine would appear to have been added for the sole purpose of facilitating the work of the censors.

In fact, among these features of the prototype, we find that there is one that links the searches of the user of an Android smartphone to their phone number. This means that the searches of people are easily traceable, and anyone is looking for information censored by Government can potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if the security agencies will request the results of searches to Google.

“This is a problematic issue from the privacy point of view because it allows for even more detailed tracking and allows (above all) to create a behavioral profile for each individual,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher of Human Rights Watch.

Chinese law requires all telecommunications companies to register user data directly in China, where the law allows authorities to intervene strongly in the initial stages of the investigation. Also according to Intercept, Dragonfly is the result of a joint venture between Google and an unspecified Chinese partner, which could have independent powers to update the blacklist, even without the approval of Google.

Furthermore, the report asserts that, according to internal sources, the data on pollution would be modified and replaced with data provided by Beijing. The issue of Beijing’s pollution is sensitive, and since the US embassy revealed the true data of pollution in the capital, the topic has become the focus of media attention and in fact, an objective point on which to evaluate the operated by the Chinese government.

In August, around 1,400 Google employees signed an open letter to the management to “know what we are building” and to respect the principles bolstered by the same company. An engineer, Jack Poulson, told Intercept he had released his resignation in protest.

According to Jack Poulson, capitulation in the face of requests for censorship and surveillance systems in exchange for access to the Chinese market represents a failure of negotiation capacity.

Since the news began circulating last month, Google has denied sending senior executives such as CEO Sundar Pichai to the US Senate Intelligence Committee. This week a bipartisan group of parliamentarians asked the company for more details about this project. Google responded by saying that it is only an exploratory phase.

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But Google is not the only American company working with the censors. Apple has moved servers that recorded the decryption keys of Chinese iCloud users in China to comply with local laws and has removed thousands of applications, from gambling to VPNs.

topic: google censorship, google china

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