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Google reportedly planning censored search engine for China

Google is having trouble retaining black and Latinx employees

Google is reportedly planning to re-launch its search engine in China, complete with censored results to meet the demands of the Chinese government. The company originally shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, citing government attempts to “limit free speech on the web.” But according to a report from The Intercept, the US tech giant now wants to return to the world’s biggest single market for internet users.

According to internal documents provided to The Intercept by a whistleblower, Google has been developing a censored version of its search engine under the codename Dragonfly since the beginning of 2017. The search engine is being built as an Android mobile app, and will reportedly filter out all websites blocked by China’s web censors (including Wikipedia and BBC News) as well as “blacklist sensitive queries.” The censorship will extend to Google’s image search, spell check, and suggested search features.

The web is heavily censored in China, with the country’s so-called Great Firewall stopping citizens from accessing many websites. Information on topics including religion, police brutality, freedom of speech, and democracy are heavily filtered, while specific search topics (like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and Taiwanese independence) are censored completely. Advocacy groups report that censorship in the country has increased under President Xi Jinping, extending beyond the web to social media and chat apps.

The whistleblower who spoke to The Intercept said they did so as they were “against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.” They also suggested that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Patrick Poon, a researcher with Amnesty International agreed with this assessment. Poon told The Intercept that if Google launches a censored version of its search engine it will “set a terrible precedent” for other companies. “The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government — it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more,” said Poon.

The Verge has contacted Google to ask for comment, but has not yet to receive a reply at the time of writing. According to The Intercept, the company faces a number of substantial barriers before it can launch its censored search engine in China, including approval from officials in Beijing and “confidence within Google” that the app will be better than its main rival in China, Baidu.

This story is developing…