Google's Chinese Search Engine Will Censor Results, Provide Gov't-Approved Pollution Data

from the breaking-the-internet-for-a-few-billion-users dept

More bad news is surfacing from Google’s Chinese government-ordained search engine. The project, known as “Dragonfly,” has proven unpopular with some Google employees and many, many Google critics. The Intercept obtained leaked documents from a unhappy Google employee back in early August. More information has surfaced, thanks to additional documents leaked to the site. Whatever surveillance/censorship concerns Dragonfly posed are far more pronounced in the wake of these new leaks.

Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.

Google’s Chinese search engine also contains a blacklist of terms like “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize,” showing the government has a deep interest in using the custom-built search engine to deter and punish dissent. None of this is surprising, other than Google’s willingness to participate in government censorship. Google does pretty much the same thing with Android phones here in the US, where everything in the ecosystem is tied to the originating phone. There are ways to prevent that, but most phone users won’t take those steps. In China, however, the phones are also registered with the government, removing the third-party hop needed to tie internet activity to a person.

Even Google’s seeming embrace of censorship and dissent deterrence may not be as surprising as it should be, as any number of social media platforms have made considerable concessions to authoritarian governments in recent years, rather than face losing market share in these countries.

The more details come out, the worse Google looks. As Ryan Gallagher reports, Google would also be complicit in replacing facts with the Chinese government’s approved narrative.

Sources familiar with Dragonfly said the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing. The Chinese government has a record of manipulating details about pollution in the country’s cities. One Google source said the company had built a system, integrated as part of Dragonfly, that was “essentially hardcoded to force their [Chinese-provided] data.”

Companies make bad decisions when faced with doing the right thing or doing the most profitable thing. Google premised its existence on not being evil. Pulling out of China lived up to that ideal. This does not. Concessions will always be made, but if these leaked documents are accurate, what Google is doing in China is far more than making small compromises to provide Chinese citizens with platforms not entirely controlled by their government. For all intents and purposes, Dragonfly is the government’s toy, built on tech underpinnings and expertise Google has apparently offered willingly.

The longer Google refuses to discuss this publicly, the worse it looks. Its continued silence will make it very difficult to fend off complaints it skews search results for political reasons or placate US government agencies demands for data or broken encryption.

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Comments on “Google's Chinese Search Engine Will Censor Results, Provide Gov't-Approved Pollution Data”

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48 Comments
Obvious Lee says:

Re: Re: Re:

The exact opposite – this is Google bowing to a lawful order to censor search results at government direction.

Exactly. In the US, Google is acting unlawfully to censor persons and bias results.

Now, that’s what you state in clear Freudian reveal. Of course you’ll try to "correct" what you stated.

You snowflakes stay in safe spaces surrounded by those of entirely the same view who know the goal and never try to find flaws, so you’re WEAK in debate.
"mind" who

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think the difference between “unlawful” in your mind, and actually, you know, breaking laws, is a serious disconnect.
Google curates search results – True and Legal.
Google censors some searches to obey the law in all countries – True and Legal.
Right-wing search results have a low priority in searches for many reasons – True and Legal.

As seen before your concept of “unlawful” relies on mistaken beliefs that aren’t shared by the US legal system. (Which is also “unlawful” to the CivSods.)

As a point of interest, how would you make a useful search engine that doesn’t rank search results with any criteria, since downplaying any entries is ‘censorship’?

(And, as always, please point us to this magic website you run that allows no moderation and is the bestest site evar?)

Xi "Winnie the Poopface" Xinping says:

Re: Re: Re:4 You’re right.

I just secured a nice state owned apartment for you in Dhongzhou, comrade.

You are doing good work dividing the west by superficial ideologies on their pathetic internet.

The PRC thanks you for your service to our great new future.

Your children will be moved to a better school next month, and your business looks like its requested permits are going to be passed by the state auditor.

Also, thank you for reporting your neighbor for their outspoken beliefs on religious freedom, we have relocated him to a work camp, and his family is being reindoctrinated.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No it doesn’t censor search results in the US.

I assume you’re referring to the conspiracy over how Google search’s auto-complete refused to suggest negative things about Hillary Clinton like the email scandal?

Google already answered that, by default their search engine auto-complete doesn’t suggest negative results about people, unless you’ve previously searched for that term. Hence you’ll only be suggested auto-complete’s like ‘Donald Trump is a racist’ if you’ve previously searched for that on your account.

And yes, reputable news organizations tried that out with all sorts of other politicians of both parties, and Google auto-complete never suggested negative things on them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Google does censor search results in the USA. They remove results when they get legal threats, despite there being no US law saying it’s illegal to return certain things in search results. They used to (maybe still do) upload the letters to Chilling Effects and link them if they censored the results because of that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

How many pages do you look thru before arriving at your determination that your target link is not there?

Are you suggesting that search engines not comply with legal court orders?

I doubt google removes things simply because someone got their panties in a twist, they probably want some sort of rational that would stand up in the board room.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You mean, like, down with the rest of the junk links?

See the thing is, most of these people have a completely inflated sense of their own importance. They spew out a page full of crap, and then when their overly swollen ego isn’t stroked with a first-link orgasm, they’re just certain it must be because they’re being censored.

Obvious Lee says:

Re: All Governments

Google’s start-up was funded by the CIA.

Snowden says Google gives NSA "direct access".

Those are public record. The two college kids were and are just fronts. They did not start it in a garage and then scale up to billions of dollars to buy thousands of servers: that requires infrastructure and business acumen, just to exist and meet payroll, far beyond "computer scientist" — before any reasonable investors would give them a dime.

You cannot explain Google without intelligence agencies.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Jobs and Wozniak started a cult on the CIA dime?

The Google plan was to shield private data from everyone, and then use the massive anonymized data to facilitate a giant analysis engine.

The problem is that the private data database is too big a target by those who want to sneak in (stalkery employees) and those who want to force their way in (overambitious law enforcement agents), given that by compromising that data block, it makes Google services unattractive.

Now many services have worked with the NSA happily (and are paid tax-financed compensation to do it), and Google has received multiple NSLs probably trying to force them to yield huge amounts of private data. Thanks to post 9/11 US law, they’re not allowed to inform the public what’s been handed over to the state.

As such plenty of folk go to places like DuckDuckGo for their websearching needs, and Google gets less data for its analysis engine.

Maybe enough people don’t care that Google doesn’t have to care. Many corporations (ATT, BofA) bank on that.

John Smith says:

Re: Re:

Google is exactly 51 percent evil. As a corporation, that’s the minimum evil it can be assigned.

It is evil because it allows its search engine to be weaponized, but not evil because it really doesn’t censor anyone (particularly on YouTube, except in very limited circumstances), and even allows criticism of itself. They are remarkably consistent, in fact, though still slightly more evil (as all corporations are) than not evil.

That’s my view.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What does “your view” think the word censor means?

Is it censoring when your link does not appear on the first page of results? You do know there are multiple pages – right?

Weaponized … should be given the dumbass word of the year award.

What do you think would happen to a website that refuses a legal court order?

Chip says:

MINIONS

Why you Minions never “ay” anything BAD about Google!

You are Google “puppets” and “sycophants” and MINIONS!

And not the Good kind of “minions” like the yellow KIND that I like to “watch” while I am eating Leaded “paint”. They are HILARIOUS! You are the “bad” kind of Minions.

Eery Nation eats the Paint chips it Deserves!

Obvious Lee says:

Re: MINIONS never take the obvious step beyond to that

Google is just the commercial front of intelligence agencies.

Your drivel supporting the site and Google is not brilliant parody but plain evidence that you can’t and won’t see the obvious connections. Google is the perfect front for
spying on all the public all the time. It sneaked and lured techs (right here on TD too) with direct payments so now has javascript tentacles in nearly every web page.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

If I were Google...

…and absolutely wanted to serve China, I’d make sure that my state-approved China Serving pages all were clearly marked as STATE-APPROVED FOR CHINA these search results have been approved by the National Public Security Work Informational Project and has been determined to be safe for public digestion.

That way, those who are getting those results know they’re only getting the state-approved results, and those who find a way to circumvent it will notice if they’re in China-unsafe net-zones.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

These two things have totally different scopes.

One country is saying: "You can do business here, but you have to follow our rules and only show our population certain things. What you do in other countries is up to you".

The other is saying: "You can do business here, but you have to follow our rules and apply them to the rest of the world as well. We don’t care if it would cause you to violate another country’s laws".

While I don’t agree with bowing to the wishes of China, it only applies to those in China. France would have it apply to the entire world.

John Smith says:

China is free to do as they see fit.

We do things they would consider atrocious, just as they do things we would consider atrocious, yet each society vales both the individual and the overall society, or common good. They just do it in different ways. China has even embraced capitalism while proving it is possible to be simultaneously capitalist and communist, which we have neverliked.

I don’t personally agree with how China runs its society, or its emphasis on the greater goodin many cases, but as Worf once said, “the Klgon system [of assassinating a weak captain” has functioned well for centuries.”

American is not the only way of life.

Xi "Winnie the Poopface" Xinping says:

Re: Re:

We just secured a nice state owned apartment for you in Zinxao-Dhang, comrade.

You are doing good work minimizing scrutiny of our government on the West’s internet.

The PRC thanks you for your service to our great new future.

Your daughter will have her medical school applications passed by the coordinated interior secretary, and your wives’ upcoming surgery has been relocated to improved facilities in Shenzhou.

Also, thank you for reporting your neighbor for their outspoken beliefs on religious freedom, we have relocated him to a work camp, and his family is being reindoctrinated.

John Smith says:

Re: Re: Re:

OH yes, no o9ne in America EVER tries to get anyone fired over what they say on social media, or abuses power. Oh no not us…

I do favor the American system, but I’ve dated enough Chinese women (actual Chinese women from China who were studying in America) to have at least some perspective on how their society works.

On the whole, they are not evil, but as in America, certain individuals will be scrweed over. You think America doesn’t retaliate against whistleblowers?

Of course “John Smith” is a nice Google-proof name, much like “Lee Lee,” one of the reasons I think Google never did that well in China. How do you find dirt on someo9ne if a million other people have the same name?

(that is not an invitation)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

OH yes, no o9ne in America EVER tries to get anyone fired over what they say on social media, or abuses power. Oh no not us…

You are conflating social peer pressure to government mandated coercion and dictation of how people can live their lives. America has the former, China has the latter. If you want the latter so much, you can leave. There’s the door. You will not be missed.

I do favor the American system, but I’ve dated enough Chinese women (actual Chinese women from China who were studying in America) to have at least some perspective on how their society works.

You are literally full of crap. You say you have experience with everything just to ward off people accusing you of not knowing what you’re talking about, because you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. You’ve yet to tell us what kind of artist you are, or what you do that has supposedly made you a self made millionaire. Proof or we will continue to assume everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie.

On the whole, they are not evil, but as in America, certain individuals will be scrweed over. You think America doesn’t retaliate against whistleblowers?

Me: Objection your Honor! Relevance?

Judge: Sustained. Please stay on topic Mr. Smith, and stop conflating two issues that have nothing to do with each other.

Of course "John Smith" is a nice Google-proof name, much like "Lee Lee," one of the reasons I think Google never did that well in China. How do you find dirt on someo9ne if a million other people have the same name?

So you deliberately admit you comment anonymously, despite saying in other comments that 1) it’s impossible to be anonymous, 2) there is no reason to be, and 3) all anonymous persons on the internet are up to no good. You are full of so much crap.

(that is not an invitation)

Well it is now.

John Smith says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

So you think it’s fine for “peers” to ruin someone as long as it’s not the government doing it, even if the government is standing down while then peers do it?

That’s a difference of opinion.

The US does business with China, so take it up with them.

I wasn’t necessarily saying Chin’s way is better, only that it is an altern ative way to run a society, and very sustainable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

So you think it’s fine for "peers" to ruin someone as long as it’s not the government doing it, even if the government is standing down while then peers do it?

Stop trying to get a false victory by putting words in my mouth and changing the goalposts. It won’t work. I’ve never said it’s fine for someone to ruin someone else and I’ve already told you there are laws that cover slander/libel/defamation.

That’s a difference of opinion.

No, it’s called the US Constitution. The government is specifically barred from telling people what they can and cannot say. As soon as the government tries to tell you what you can and cannot say, that is not allowed. That doesn’t mean there aren’t social consequences for your speech, that only means the government can’t dictate your speech or punish you for wrong speech.

The US does business with China, so take it up with them.

Me: Objection your Honor! Relevance!

Judge: Sustained. Mr. Smith, your attempts to deflect are getting tiresome. Stay on topic or this court will find you in contempt.

I wasn’t necessarily saying Chin’s way is better, only that it is an altern ative way to run a society, and very sustainable.

That’s not what you were saying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

China is free to do as they see fit.

Within reason.

We do things they would consider atrocious, just as they do things we would consider atrocious

Pretty sure wholesale slaughter of groups of people that don’t agree with your glorious leader is considered atrocious in any society.

yet each society vales both the individual and the overall society, or common good.

Oh yes, because murdering your population shows you value the individual and is for the common good.

China has even embraced capitalism while proving it is possible to be simultaneously capitalist and communist

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

You’re a moron. Those two ideals are on exact opposite ends of the spectrum and are completely incompatible. Communism says the government dictates what you do and how much you get, capitalism says the individual dictates what they do and what they get is limited only by how hard they work. Go back to school.

I don’t personally agree with how China runs its society, or its emphasis on the greater goodin many cases, but as Worf once said, "the Klgon system [of assassinating a weak captain" has functioned well for centuries."

And that led to the Klingons killing each other and backstabbing their superiors on a regular basis. You’re really going to advocate for murder? Besides, Worf abandoned Klingon society because he felt it was wrong and instead embraced the ideals of Starfleet. Your Trek fu is weak, old man.

American is not the only way of life.

Agreed, but to argue that murder and total control of your country’s population is also a valid way of life is not. Which is exactly what you are advocating for.

John Smith says:

Re: Re: Re:

Kent State ring a bell? Eugenics? Involuntary testing of syphilis on black military? Slavery? Segregation? Our history is pretty checkered.

The Chinese don’t judge their culture by American standards. it is quite possible to have a free society without free speech and with conformism that suppresses individual expression past a certain point. We did the same thing on D-Day, unless you think the soldiers who died on the front lines that day didn’t get a raw deal.

China is certainly a sustainable country, and many who live there would never want to live here. Not everyone cares about tilting at windmills or rocking the boat. Those who do that in this country often face rough “unofficial” oppression, as we note when we say freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for that speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Kent State ring a bell? Eugenics? Involuntary testing of syphilis on black military? Slavery? Segregation? Our history is pretty checkered.

Our history is checkered, yes. The difference is we strive to be better, and all those things were condemned by the American public and are now outlawed and generally recognized by society as bad. That is not the same in China where you can still be jailed and potentially executed for merely criticizing the government or espousing ideas the government doesn’t agree with. Your argument is invalid.

The Chinese don’t judge their culture by American standards.

No, they just punish anyone who doesn’t agree.

it is quite possible to have a free society without free speech and with conformism that suppresses individual expression past a certain point.

No, it’s really not. If you aren’t FREE to say what you want, then you don’t really have a FREE society now do you? You’re an idiot and a moron.

We did the same thing on D-Day, unless you think the soldiers who died on the front lines that day didn’t get a raw deal

Relevance? This has nothing to do with freedom of speech, other than those men fought and died to protect it. Regardless, I dare you to claim otherwise to any WWII veteran. If you do, they are likely to spit in your face.

Not everyone cares about tilting at windmills or rocking the boat.

Well, you do apparently.

Those who do that in this country often face rough "unofficial" oppression, as we note when we say freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for that speech.

That depends, are you arguing that whites are superior to other races and a woman’s place is in the home? If so then you deserve every bit of "unofficial oppression" you receive because that would make you a selfish, racist, sexist, bigoted lying moron.

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