Back in 2010, after a hacking incident that involved hackers based in China, Google’s own source code, and several Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights advocates, Google shut down google.cn and began directing users in China to its Hong Kong search engine.
Fast forward 8 years and the search giant is rumored to be working on a censored search engine specifically for China under a project code-named Dragonfly. The engine will leave out websites and search terms blacklisted by the Chinese government from its search results. The news was reported by The Intercept, which bases its story on leaked documents, and the New York Times, whose source – two people with knowledge of the plans – corroborates the story.
According to the sources, a custom Android app that restricts access to content deemed unfavorable by the ruling communist party has already been demonstrated to Chinese government officials. If the app gets approved by Chinese officials, a finalized version is expected to be launched in six to nine months.
In the app, websites blocked by the Great Firewall be removed from the first page of results and replaced with a disclaimer that says “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.” The search app might also show no results at all if the search contains certain ‘sensitive’ words.
The censorship will apply to other Google services, such as image search, automatic spell check, and suggested search features.
There is still no indication whether Google plans to launch a desktop version. It is worth noting that around 95% of netizens in China use their mobile devices to enter the web; Android occupies 80% of the mobile OS market share.
Furthermore, according to The Information, Google is also building a news aggregation app for the Chinese market that complies with the country’s censorship laws.
While the news has already caused an outcry among human rights activists – Amnesty International said that it would be a “dark day for internet freedom” – it is very likely that Google turned a deaf ear and decided to cave for fear of potentially missing out on massive revenue streams: the country has over 750 million internet users, equal to the entire population of Europe.
Google’s own seem to be upset as well. According to four anonymous sources within Google, some employees have already expressed their disappointment with the project on the company’s internal messaging platforms. The exchange revealed that some employees had declined to work on the project.