Disappointing: Google Makes Plan To Return To China With Censored Search Engine
from the this-is-unfortunate dept
Google has had quite the roller coaster ride with China. Back in 2006, Google unfortunately decided to give into pressure from the Chinese government, and agreed to launch a censored version of its site in China. A few years later, Google corrected that error and stopped censoring results in China, leading to the site mostly being blocked by China’s Great Firewall. That was a principled stand to take. Unfortunately, the Intercept is reporting on some internal documents that suggest Google is moving back in the other direction, and testing a censored version of its search engine for China.
The project ? code-named Dragonfly ? has been underway since spring of last year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google?s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans.
It appears the Intercept found out about this from a Google whistleblower who was (correctly) unnerved by this plan:
Within Google, knowledge about Dragonfly has been restricted to just a few hundred members of the internet giant?s 88,000-strong workforce, said a source with knowledge of the project. The source spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to contact the media. The source said that they had moral and ethical concerns about Google?s role in the censorship, which is being planned by a handful of top executives and managers at the company with no public scrutiny.
Google’s official response to this was an unfortunately PR-speak non-answer:
?We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don?t comment on speculation about future plans.?
Yeah, that’s really not going to cut it. Meanwhile, another source inside the company told Vice that the negative publicity over the plan may scuttle it altogether:
A source inside the company, who was not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed that the contents of the Intercept report were accurate. 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.
Given how in the last few months we’ve seen employees at various large tech companies protest internally various efforts to get big government deals that create sketchy ethical situations, it seems highly likely that the same is going to happen here as well. I would imagine that a large number of Google employees — the same ones who supported the company’s decision to pull out of China — will make a pretty big stink about the possibility of going back into China with a censored version.
The general thinking on this is that China is such a huge market it’s difficult for tech companies to ignore. And it seems likely that Wall Street’s constant push for growth is playing into this plan. But there are certain steps that are not worth taking, and Google should seriously rethink this plan.