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.

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Comments on “Disappointing: Google Makes Plan To Return To China With Censored Search Engine”

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47 Comments
Gary (profile) says:

Still

This is a regrettable development, the global censorship drive is pandemic. (Didn’t Jeff Sessions just push to have a likewise “patriotic” censorship instituted?)
Now that the story is broken, it is important to note that they kept this project secret to prevent their own employees from revolting. That alone speaks volumes if your own staff have to be kept in the dark.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Still

Praise be to the whistleblowers.

Though I have to wonder what their ultimate plan was – if the plan had to be kept secret because the blowback would be that bad, what about when it actually launched? People would find out at some point, and if they’d kept it secret up to launch, the outcry would have been all the greater.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Still

Though I have to wonder what their ultimate plan was

Probably new management forgetting about history, or thinking people would be more tolerant of it. Internal people would have been against the censorship the first time they did it, but they did it anyway until external pressure caused them to stop. Also, it’s harder to stop this when it’s already happening, because Google can talk about all the ways Chinese users have become dependent and will be inconvenienced.

Anonymous Coward says:

How can you be disappointed in a FICTION unless BELIEVE FICTION?

GOOGLE is a legal fiction. That’s nailed down.

In practice, every corporation is like an amoral and immortal beast driven only by a goal of gaining power — via its tokens: money (which itself is actually just pieces of paper at most, usually just numbers in computers, again complete FICTIONS).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How can you be disappointed in a FICTION unless BELIEVE FICTION?

GOOGLE will ALWAYS do what gains power. ANY morality that you attribute to it is just YOUR fantasy.

Therefore, if disappointed in ANY corporation, you are contradicting reality. You are insane. — And if you then try to hedge: well, the corporation is RUN by a group of people, then you flatly don’t know the reality of people, either!

We’re told that the premier corporatist example, Nazi Germany, murdered and incinerated millions of people. THAT is definitely far closer to the reality of corporatism than YOUR being "disappointed" with Google, you Masnick.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: How can you be disappointed in a Troll

Never to anything substantial. Google is still a monopoly in many markets. Such as are many american companies in many industries. Android and iOS for example, fro the whole world.
Tell me, since when fiscal paradises were removed?
Since when prices of plane tickets dropped considerably?
Etc.
The guy is right to assert that mainly, because driven my only money, corporations are evil. And thinking otherwise is just naive.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Some vs None

So exactly what is your complaint regarding his counter-point besides ‘big companies are bad'(which has nothing to do with his comment) and ‘plane tickets are expensive'(seriously, what does that have to do with anything)?

If you’ve really got a problem with large companies which may or may not have a monopoly in their field you should want more articles like this, because while critical articles might not shift multi-billion dollar companies overnight and in significant ways, you want to know how much impact non-existent critical articles have on the companies involved?

None whatsoever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: How can you be disappointed in a FICTION unless BELIEVE FICTION?

Mike could go full on super villain against Google murdering everyone worker and shareholder along with their families with rusty spoons and this guy would still say Mike is a google fanboy because he didn’t use his barehands and spared the friends and acquaintances of the families.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How can you be disappointed in a FICTION unless BELIEVE FICTION?

Change behavior? No. Marginally at best.

Google is still a monopoly in many markets. And many american companies are still monopoly in many industries. If not go ask all the people that has just one, two at most options for ISP in their area.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The guy is speaking truth. Npo matter what change of behavioir is obtained from companies suhch as Google, they still run the show. Still a monopoly in many markets, still spying on you and fully complying with NSA and intelligence agenciy demands, still violationg your rights such as privacy, etc.

The Last Ledi sucks. The same old story than before, updated tot he times.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hypocrisy on display

One thing that is so consistent about the left, and about so many of your articles, is the blatant hypocrisy. You decry another company’s decision to censor, but you take money from people like the Koch brothers and censor any opinion you don’t agree with (especially Trump’s). Yes, I’ve heard the “party line” that the “community” chooses the censorship, but that is just garbage, worse than Google’s. Whole swaths of comments are censored within a few minutes, this is not and never has been a “community” effort.

The good news is that your hypocrisy is so obvious it has motivated the election of Trump. Karma, right? The more tyrannical and hysterical you become, the more you conjure the ultimate solution: Donald J. Trump (POTUS). You made him who he is, and you got him the job. Keep it up, Denounce capitalism. Denounce Trump. Go for it. You are and your hypocrisy and histrionics got him the job, and the Koch brothers pay for it. Perfect.

Sayonara Felicia-San (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hypocrisy on display

Don’t bother mansplaining reality to these misinformed wild eyed government indoctrinated dupes.

When Trump was sent to us, he wiped away the old laws and sins of the Republican party, and it became a new party in his name, with a new covenant for his people.

Trump loves all his children, and all that he asks in return is loyalty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy on display

One thing is consistent with trump, and that is his insanity.

I am curious, what sort of ID do I need in order to purchase groceries? Will my drivers license do or will I need a passport? Will I move to the front of the line if I have PRE?

Why are you so easily duped? Willing suspension of disbelief for some sort of gain .. what is that, or what do you get out of it? You seem to be a good capitalist, so it must be money you are being paid to make such silly posts.

Anonymous Coward says:

This article Entirely misses the Monopolistic Point

The framing of this article suggests that without China’s censorship, there would be no censorship on Google. That is simply not true. It is not true about Google, it is not true about Facebook, it is not true about Twitter.

All these companies censor their comment (as does Techdirt). They do it in a way that benefits themselves (obviously). None of them are benevolent, and no one expects them to be. They are all “for profit” companies, not champions of anything except themselves, and without a moral core of religious or other selfless belief. They believe only that they want to make money. No one would argue with this.

China is taking a reasonable stance, and I hope the US takes it next. It basically is telling Google, if you want access to our market, you will not decide the censorship that takes place, we will. And they are right to do so. Google has a monopoly, and should be regulated like a monopoly (obviously).

Faced with a ban or to allow their (existing) censorship to be shaped by the government, they will choose the latter. In the US, the same thing should happen. I would much prefer an open and publicly exposed censorship policy (for example) with government oversight then leaving the censorship decisions to Google, Twitter, Facebook and the like. The Chinese government has an agenda for the Chinese people – work hard, serve others, get rich (that last part is fairly new).

Who out there really wants to trust Google with the undocumented unaccountable censorship they perform every day? Bad idea, really bad idea. Open it up, make it all publicly controlled, and show the American people exactly what is going on. It looks like the Chinese will get there first, but I hope America soon follows. Split it up, Google is a monopoly, let’s regulate it like one.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Ah deepities...

The framing of this article suggests that without China’s censorship, there would be no censorship on Google.

Correct but irrelevant. It would still happen, it just wouldn’t be happening with Google’s assistance, hence the article.

All these companies censor their comment (as does Techdirt).

[Citation needed], along with the definition of ‘censor’ that you’re using just to be clear.

Google has a monopoly, and should be regulated like a monopoly (obviously).

Define ‘monopoly’ and state what you believe Google has a monopoly on, keeping in mind ‘they’re popular’ is not a definition of a monopoly.

The Chinese government has an agenda for the Chinese people – work hard, serve others, get rich (that last part is fairly new).

Don’t forget ‘thou shall not question your betters‘ and ‘If your betters say it’s taboo then shut up about it‘.

Anonymous Coward says:

OK, first – a statement starting with “don’t” suggests what the author was thinking of doing while uttering it. Like “don’t be evil”. This was only a matter of time for it to transpire, and the signs of it coming were visible for something like 10y.

Second – since we cannot have a “do good” company, let us at least have something out of it. Like taxes. To fix bridges, roads, build proper broadband; to do good, instead of “not doing evil” or pretty much anything.

Sayonara Felicia-San (profile) says:

Google employees are reportedly are upset...

…but naturally, not as upset as they were about Google helping the US military with their drone program.

A partnership which would have:
A: Helped Improve United States Military Security
B: Helped Reduce Innocent Loss of Life

Nope! Google employees can’t seem to work up that level of frothy civil disobedience when it comes helping the Chinese government shit all over its own people, because ‘god’ gave the Chinese different cultural rights which may or may not include imperialist western values like freedom of speech.

So let’s summarize Google’s values:

1. Banning Entertaining Conspiracy Theorist using Trumped up “bullying” charges – CHECK
2. Shutting down deal with US Military to improve drone program – CHECK
3. Helping the ‘Communist’ Chinese Dictatorship destroy civil rights – CHECK

Folks, here is some advice, next time there is massive wave of technological innovation, prior to industry consolidation, if some pock marked engineer claims that their company ‘won’t be evil’ please don’t choose that company.

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