Google has been developing a censored version of its search engine under the codename "Dragonfly" since the start of past year, according to a report published Wednesday by The Intercept, which cites internal documents provided by a whistleblower.
Google exited the Chinese mainland in 2010 after clashing with Beijing over the censorship of search results and a cyberattack on users of its Gmail email service.
Google has declined to comment on the subject, but the reports have pummeled shares of US -listed Baidu, which dominates China's search engine market.
The search app, according to The Intercept, which cited internal Google documents, will "blacklist sensitive queries" so that "no results will be shown" when people search for certain terms. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google's image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists, meaning that they will not recommend people information or photographs the government has banned. It added the search engine had already been demonstrated to Chinese government officials.
Other analysts cited China's "long memory" of past criticism from Google executives, the Wall Street Journal says (paywall). The folks over at The Intercept also claim to have received access to documents titled "Google Confidential" that detail plans of Google's re-entry into the Chinese market after more than 8 years of exile. In March 2010, the Mountain View-based company stopped censoring materials in China, by redirecting its Chinese page to the Hong Kong domain which returned uncensored results. According to the whistleblower, the new search engine is being built as an Android mobile app. Google has also undergone changes as a company, with its new CEO Pichai leading the charge to once again get a foothold in the country.
China's government goes to great lengths to control its citizens' access to information on the Internet, creating what's been dubbed the "Great Firewall".
Alviani told HKFP: "After Apple's decision to remove VPNs from its Chinese store and to host its Chinese iCloud on local servers, Google's decision would set a new precedent that could encourage other major online contents distributors, especially Facebook and Linkedin, to abide by the Chinese censorship model". But they said that it was unclear at this point if the app would be launched - partly because of the negative publicity surrounding the Intercept's story and partly due to the ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade. Pichai has publicly stated he was eager for Google to start operating in China. According to the Intercept's anonymous sources, Project Dragonfly was restricted to a few hundred engineers and was not made available for public consultation.
Separately, a Chinese official with knowledge of the plans said that Google has been in contact with authorities at the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) about a modified search program.
In the company's absence, Baidu Inc. has strengthened its grip on search in China while Microsoft Corp.'s Bing operates in the country by censoring subjects and words.
At the time, the search engine giant's about-face drew praise from politicians and human rights activists.